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Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. This violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, anecdotal evidence suggests there has been an increase in the reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence due to lockdown and travel restrictions. Even before the pandemic, the Women’s Wellbeing survey shows that 1 in 5 (20.4%) women in Sri Lanka have experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime; and 1 in 4 women (24.9%) in Sri Lanka have experienced sexual and/or physical violence since the age of 15 (2019).

With health systems stretched in responding to the pandemic, women's shelters were reaching capacity with many seeking solace and support. COVID-19 has also severely disrupted access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services and challenged the authorities' ability to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services most. As such, UNFPA works with the State Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pre-Schools & Primary Education, School Infrastructure & Education Services, the Family Health Bureau, the Mithuru Piyasa and several other Government, Private sector and non-Government entities to ensure women and girls receive the support services they require even amidst COVID-19.

The work of UNFPA is based on the premise that all human beings are entitled to equal rights and protections. As such, UNFPA works with a range of partners to:

- Raise awareness on the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and supporting women’s organizations and shelters to ensure services are accessible and running even in the midst of the pandemic

- Strengthen public institutions to address sexual and gender-based violence

- Strengthen gender-focused corporate culture at the workplace to address gender-based violence and uphold gender equality

- Advocate for essential services for women and girls that support their safety, well-being and access to justice


 In Sri Lanka, UNFPA chairs the National Forum against gender-based violence as one of the lead UN agencies working to further gender equality and women’s empowerment.