What happened after COVID-19 hit: for front-line workers answering the hotline, the case load doubled, and so did their own emotional stress
Since lockdowns measures, countries around the world have seen an alarming rise in reporting on violence against women, especially domestic violence.
’How can I help you? Are you by yourself? Please stay on the line,’ I say.
The hotline operates 24/7. During the pandemic, I can barely put down my headset as there are incoming calls all day every day, and I always try to answer every call. We never know what would happen to the caller if we delay answering or miss a call.
I am part of a team of hotline operators and social workers that receive more than 300 calls each day, a 34 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. Women know to call us when they need help.
Many women migrant workers face language barriers. Many don’t know their rights and do not want to disclose their personal information or location. This is especially the case of undocumented migrant women – they are afraid to interact with the authorities for fear of being arrested. and as a result, they are at even higher risk of violence and abuse. Any woman facing violence should be assisted and protected, regardless of their immigration status.
The Safe and Fair programme recently conducted a workshop for our Hotline team, to share knowledge and experience on how to handle cases of gender-based violence better. The workshop was especially useful for our new team members who joined us during the COVID-19 crisis.
I am transgender, and many callers are not confident that I can help them. Some of them have even told me that I needed help ‘to fix my gender’. But eventually, they come around when they realize that I can provide them with the support they need. At the end of a day, it fulfils me to know they feel empowered, they know where to seek help, and understand that what happened to them was not their fault.
What I love about my job is that everyone shares the same goal: callers are the priority and we must support them in getting the help they need. We respect each other as a team.
COVID-19 is a challenge for all of us. We needed to equip ourselves with new knowledge and skills to cope with the crisis. With the increased number of calls amidst limited capacity, many of our hotline operators started showing signs of stress and burnout. We listen to hundreds of sensitive cases every day, the stress builds over time, and it’s important that we recognize that frontline workers also need rest.
We are used to helping others; and front-line workers often struggle to ask for help themselves.”
UN Women responds through programmes on the ground
Naiyapak Chaipan works for the 1300 Hotline, managed by the Thai government’s Social Assistance Centre that assists women seeking to leave abusive and violent situations. Ms. Chaipan’s work has doubled as the COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions have left many women confined with their abusers at home. Like in many other countries, the hotline has become a critically essential platform to provide information and refer survivors to the support services they require.
The 1300 Hotline, managed under the Ministry of Social Development is working with the Safe and Fair programme to ensure respectful and sensitive response to survivors calling in, and an effective referral system.
The programme is part of the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, a global, multi-year initiative between the European Union and the United Nations. It is implemented through a partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN Women, in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).