Practical Application of UKCDR Safeguarding Guidance During COVID-19
This is a companion piece to Guidance on Safeguarding in International Development Research. The world’s attention is focused on the threat and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and researchers are at the forefront of the response. At the same time, many institutions have suspended non-COVID-related domestic and international research activities, in light of the potential hazards to both researchers and participants and the effects of political/social restrictions such as lockdowns, curfews and physical distancing.
Safeguarding – the responsibility to anticipate, mitigate and address harm – remains an essential function for all those involved in the international development research chain, whatever the focus of their research
Safeguarding in international development research takes on added significance during the COVID-19 crisis, for a number of reasons:
- During emergencies, people and organisations can forget or overlook the importance of safeguarding in the face of immediate survival needs.
- Many institutions’ normal governance and oversight processes, including those for reporting or investigating safeguarding concerns, are delayed or severely disrupted; whistle-blowers may be ignored or even suffer retaliation.
- Unscrupulous actors may seize the opportunity to commit abuse or perpetrate harm during a time of lowered scrutiny and drastically reduced or overburdened public services. For example, emerging evidence from the international development sector strongly points to increases in domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual violence against women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as heightened risk to children of neglect, abuse and exploitation.
- While certain safeguarding risks may appear temporarily reduced by restrictions on movement, closure of workplaces, etc., harm and abuse will manifest themselves in other ways, and specific new risks can arise as a result of the pandemic.
- Researchers may be inclined to undertake more risky actions during a widespread crisis, because risks are perceived as being everywhere – individuals’ ‘risk line’ or definition of what constitutes acceptable risk can shift.
- Research may have to be undertaken rapidly in emergency situations, with pressure to allow perceived urgency to override normal steps to anticipate potential harms, take action to mitigate harm and put in place or strengthen appropriate processes to address it.
- Ability to carry out basic institutional functions, including the ongoing responsibilities of research funders/institutions to discharge their duty of care in relation to their staff, grant-holders and research teams, may be compromised, and additional risks overlooked.
Published as part of a series from UKCDR.010420-UKCDR-Safeguarding-Companion-Piece_Practical-application-of-guidance-during-COVID-19