Access to Justice During COVID-19 for Survivors of Domestic Violence

The pandemic posed a new challenge for women’s access to justice because of closed courts, suspended frontline services, and limited legal aid. The study tries to understand how survivors of domestic violence were pursuing justice in the context of restricted legal services, what alternatives were available to them, e.g., mediation by religious leaders or family members, and what was the implication of the new circumstance on their pursuit of justice. Findings show that though women faced some difficulties accessing justice, access to community leaders and NGO paralegals remained unhampered. Service providers at the state level tried to overcome lockdown restrictions by adopting virtual service delivery mechanisms though the effort was limited. The study recommends strengthening the capacity of survivors and their families with information and better access to legal services and enhancing community role in providing support.

Researchers: Maheen Sultan; Marufa Akter; Pragyna Mahpara; Nuha Annoor Pabony; Fariha Tasnin

Partners: Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST); BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS); and RDRS Bangladesh

Timeline: 2020–2021

Status: Completed

Method: Qualitative

Contact: Maheen Sultan


Report: Access to Justice During COVID-19 for Survivors of Domestic Violence


COVID-19 has caused far-reaching social challenges beyond the spread of the disease itself. Survivors of domestic violence face steep challenges in seeking justice—e.g., high tolerance for domestic violence in the society, women’s economic constraints, and their limited abilities in navigating the complex, confusing legal system. Court closures during lockdown and limited frontline and legal aid services throughout the pandemic  meant a further disruption in their access to justice. How did the survivors and the legal aid organizations adapt to this crisis?


To assess the ability to seek and access justice by women survivors of violence during the pandemic, the remedies they have obtained and the role of technology in empowering action. The study also explores the challenges faced by legal aid organizations in terms of service-delivery, innovative uses of technology to ensure community involvement as well as the responses of other relevant stakeholders (such as the police, local authorities, and community members) in relation to resolving cases of violence against women and children (VAWC).


The study employed a qualitative approach, including literature review, process tracing through case diaries, in-depth interviews, and key informant interviews. BRAC HRLS, BLAST and RDRS were the key legal aid organizations that partnered in conducting this research. Two staff members of each organization were trained by BIGD to provide guidance for the selection of cases and filling up the case diary formats. The case dairies were supplemented by in-depth interviews with each of the case study respondents. Other stakeholders such as the police, shelter homes, CIDV, DWA, and DLAC were also interviewed. 

Findings and Recommendations

The findings show that women have limited  capability to exercise their right to be free of violence. The case studies brought out that women survivors of domestic violence (DV) have reached out to various forms of agency, such as local leaders, journalists, and NGO workers in order to protect their marriage, seek justice for violence they faced, and the rights of their children. At the household level, it was seen that COVID-19 disrupted the respondents’ lives with migrant husbands returning to their villages, losing their jobs, business getting worse, and families being separated because of travel restrictions. 

At the community level, access to community leaders and also to NGO paralegals and community animators was not hampered as they lived nearby. At the state level, though both government agencies and NGOs tried to overcome the lockdown restrictions by trying online dispute resolutions, telephone outreach and advice through hotlines (GO and NGO), and online filing of applications (DLAC), the outreach and use of these remained limited.

Based on the findings, the report recommends the following—

  1. recognizing and prioritizing the needs of domestic violence survivors;
  2. increasing gender responsiveness among family, community, and individuals working within government and non-government institutions to counter prevailing social pressure on women to accept violence and abuse in marriage;
  3. strengthening the capacity of survivors through mental health support, financial support, and alternative livelihoods;
  4. strengthening community role in preventing domestic violence and providing support to DV survivors;
  5. conducting further research to understand long-term implications of the pandemic for women survivors, children, and their families