Coronavirus triggers gender-based violence, inequality

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an emergence of another parallel pandemic of violence against women and girls—those who were locked up with their abusers in their homes during lockdown, a prominent women and human rights advocate said.

Gita Sen, Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard University and Distinguished Professor at Public Health Foundation of India, shared her views during the virtual conference organized by the steering committee of the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (APCRSHR10), UNFPA and Citizen News Service (CNS) on July 9.

“We are living in deeply unsettling times. The pandemic has turned everything upside down, how we live, how we work, how we interact,” Gita noted.

What more important, she added, was the backlash against gender equality and human rights, specifically the human rights of women and girls is strong across the world, including in parts of our region (Asia and the Pacific).

“I have seen very little active leadership to remove stigma and to deal with the backlash against gender equality. Some leaders have gone in the opposite direction and we really need to tackle this,” said Gita.

Gita further said The State of the World Population Report 2020 points to disturbing facts, especially regarding female genital mutilation, child marriage and sex selection (as a result of aversion to daughters) that are present in our region and harm women and girls and undermine equality.

“There are so many existing deeply structural inequalities that exacerbated during the pandemic,” she said.

Some of the most significant facts Gita shared, among others: “Covid19 has shown us the weakness of our health system, where women tend to be at the bottom of the health worker hierarchy.”

Gita also pointed out that the fragility of the economic systems, which has impacted informal and migrant workers, women and minority community communities, the most.

“This happened even in a very high per capita income country like Singapore. While it could manage the pandemic well in the initial stages, but later on the migrant workers, who lived in crowded buildings on the outskirts of Singapore and lacked access to proper services, became the hub for the new spiking,” she maintained.

Economic inequality has widened the gap between the rich and the poor in the region.

“We need to move towards universal basic income for everyone, including the migrant workers on whom our economies depend. We need to invest in housing, water and sanitation. We need progressive tax systems. The rich must wealth tax to fund essential public services,” she added.

In health sector, Gita stressed the unreliability and very high cost of private health care.

“We cannot depend on the private sector in healthcare (and in education) if we want to move towards universal health coverage. Investment in public provision of health care services, effective regulation of private sector and ensuring that the women health workers, who predominate at the lower ranks, are treated properly as workers,” she pointed out adding that women are key in moving towards a more balanced economy and more sustainable and caring societies.

Meanwhile, Caroline Homer, Co-Program Director, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health at Burnet Institute and Visiting Professor of Midwifery Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, presented a plenary talk entitled: “Addressing barriers to accelerate progress on SRHR in Asia Pacific.”

“SRHR is essential for human development, sustainable development and for countries to reach SDGs. There are enormous links of SRHR, gender equality and women’s wellbeing,” said Homer adding that countries that have strong and effective SRHR have very strong economic development and are better for environmental sustainability.

However, Homer was concern that there are still many existing problems in the Asia-Pacific region. “There are not enough women In addition to healthcare access, the region also sees the rises in violence against women and girls during the pandemic.

“SRHR is not a women’s issue or men’s issue but it is all of our issues. We see high rates of nearly one in three women experiencing intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence,” said Homer.

“We are seeing higher rates of violence across the region. In my country (Australia) in the 27 weeks of the pandemic 27 women have been allegedly murdered by their partners or by first family members,” she added.

COVID 19 has exacerbated many of the other barriers (particularly access and availability) as many services have been engaged to provide COVID responses rather than SRH, she explained.

“The region sees many health workers, particularly nurses, midwives, doctors, community health workers were struck by COVID 19 and many of them have died. The loss of healthcare workers is an enormous tragedy,” added Homer.

22 July 2020

Asia One