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Young voice from a Safe House

The arrival of COVID-19 to Ethiopia placed furhter strain on girls and women at risk of violence. The COVID-19 transfer center is part of a programme for preventing and responding to the increase in violence against women and girls in Ethiopia supported by the Danish Embassy in Ethiopia. The programme cooperates with the Ethiopian Government and civil society organisations to prevent and end violence against girls and women in the country.

Bethlehem staying in a Safe House, “Coming here has changed my life and I am looking forward to starting a new life in pursuit of an education and bringing up my daughter.”

Young voice from a Safe House
The arrival of COVID-19 to Ethiopia placed further strain on girls and women at risk of violence. When the government introduced restrictions on movements and socializing to minimize the spread of infection and reduce the pressure on the public heath institutions, families were trapped indoors and worried about the future. “I was raped by my father over a period of three years”, says Bethlehem* in a quiet voice, “and it was not until my neighbors told me to report it that I contacted the authorities.” She continues speaking softly while looking at her five-month-old daughter who is sleeping in her arms. “The neighbors noticed my growing stomach and realized that I was pregnant. They encouraged me to seek protection for myself and my baby.”

Bethlehem is 19 years old and tiny for her age. Her curved shoulders form a protective shield for her daughter, who is covered in blankets in her arms. When Bethlehem finally reported the abuse to the police, COVID-19 had swept across Ethiopia. “The police referred me to the Association of Women’s Sanctuary and Development (AWSAD),” Bethlehem informs. Prior to the pandemic, survivors of violence would be referred straight to the Safe Houses. But letting women and girls into the Safe Houses directly from their own homes was no longer an option, as they risked bringing the virus with them and infecting other residents.

Transfer-shelters minimize spread of COVID-19
The Safe Houses distributed around Ethiopia introduced measures to protect women and children against COVID-19 by setting up temporary transfer shelters. Early in the pandemic, Un Women took the initiative to establish transfer shelters and sought financial support from the Danish Embassy in Addis Ababa. In the transfer shelters, girls and women can stay for shorter periods of time, get COVID-19 tests, and after two consecutive negative results they can move to the Safe Houses. “With the opening of the transfer shelters, we are able to receive more survivors of violence,” states Senait Zewdie, coordinator of the AWSAD in Addis Ababa. She continues, “We cooperate closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure we take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also to raise awareness about how to prevent violence in the time of crisis.”

Increased demand on Safe Houses due to COVID-19
The indistinctive sand-covered wall on the outskirts of Addis Ababa conceals the lively setting indoors, with women actively taking part in life skills training and children playing in the late afternoon sun that reaches the narrow courtyard.

Senait Zewdie, programme coordinator for AWSAD, has worked on gender-based violence issues for years and is worried about the consequences of the pandemic. She has observed the impact of the measures recommended to minimize the spread of COVID-19, such as stay at home restrictions, avoiding public interaction, and school closures, which have increased the exposure of girls and women to domestic and sexual abuse. The Safe Houses were under high pressure, lacking testing kit and at the same time experiencing many more women needing help. She says, “Due to high demand, the resources of the Safe House are stretched thin and further pressure is being placed on them as a result of the pandemic. Our capacity is 50 people, but due to the emergency situation we now have 100 people, double our capacity. On top of this, we are at risk for transmission of COVID-19. “ 

The establishment of the transfer shelters and COVID-19 testing is reducing the pressure on the Safe Houses and the children and women at the Safe Houses are being protected from the coronavirus and can start preparing for life after the Safe House.

Preparing for life after violence
“We not only offer counselling and protection, but we also work closely with the police, the justice department, and the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to prevent gender-based violence. UN Women is currently running six Safe Houses in different regions of the country, including this one in Addis.

At the Safe Houses, the survivors are offered life skills and most participate in a range of training programs. Bethlehem recently finalized a knitting course and hopes to be able to sell her own products one day. The Safe Houses offer daycare for the children. About half of the women staying bring children and the Safe Houses offers daycare leaving time for the women to participate in the skills training and apply for jobs.

The COVID-19 transfer center is a part of programme for preventing and responding to the increase in violence against women and girls in Ethiopia supported by the Danish Embassy in Ethiopia. The programme cooperates with the Ethiopian government and civil society organizations to prevent and end violence against girls and women in the country. 

Looking up, her daughter sitting on her lap, Bethlehem says with clear voice, “Since my arrival here, I have received counseling and health services. I have taken life skills courses.” She pauses before continuing softly and with confidence, “Coming here has changed my life and I am looking forward to starting a new life in pursuit of an education and bringing up my daughter.”


*The name is a pseudonym; the real name and identity is known to the Embassy of Denmark in Ethiopia.

FACTS

There is 1 COVID transfer shelter and 6 Safe Houses.
The transfer shelter offers shelter to 314 women survivors of violence and their 40 children.