Prominent female leaders believe that having women sitting at the table with decision–makers will be vital in ensuring that there is gender justice, and fair and accurate compensation for the extra care work placed on women’s shoulders during the coronavirus outbreak. They also say that the involvement of women will advance the fight for the recognition of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) for millions of women.
According to a Lancet paper, pandemic responses are “converging with pervasive, existing sexual and reproductive health and justice inequities where the health, wellbeing and economic stability of women, girls and vulnerable populations are being disproportionately impacted.”
The commentary further adds that sexual and reproductive policy agenda must be at the heart of the Covid-19 response, and that universal health coverage shouldn’t fall to the wayside.
“We have to sound the alarm that Covid-19 did not start yesterday, as we have been building on years of inequality. The current data, based on 155 countries where we have a footprint, shows that an estimated burden on GBV (Gender Based Violence) will affect 30–million women and girls, while seven–million unintended pregnancies will be added over a six months’ period and 50–million women are going to lose access to contraceptives,” says Natalia Kanem, executive director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Kanem also adds that she is concerned about how women are struggling to access help through GBV hotlines, and advocates for these telephonic services to continue working now more than ever, as most abused women and children are stuck at home with their abusers.
Criminalisation compounds coronavirus stress
While most governments have put in place financial and social relief packages for affected citizens, there are huge concerns that vulnerable populations, such as sex workers and transgender women, are falling through the cracks.
“Sex work is criminalised in many countries and this criminalisation means they can’t access financial support stimulus from government because they can’t prove loss of income. They can’t even access food support because they have been criminalised. Transgender women in countries like India are also a vulnerable group because they can’t access services as they don’t have proof of identity. We are working on making sure that they access food services in their countries.”
This is according to executive director Winnie Byanyima, from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
The UNAIDS is also concerned about the collision of Covid-19 and HIV and is refocusing 50% of its funding to support vulnerable groups in some countries.
Byanyima further adds that the organisation and other feminist groups should try to make sure that they get into all spaces where the future, or the ‘new normal’ is being discussed in order to shape the future because “it is important that we don’t return to where we were”.
SRHR at the forefront
The Lancet commentary further notes that the disruption of services and diversion of resources away from sexual and reproductive health rights and care to the Covid-19 response is expected to increase risks of maternal and child morbidity and mortality.
UN Women’s executive director, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, says that as funding gets channelled to various Covid-19 response programmes, the organisation hopes to secure a share for women, who are mainly in the informal sector.
“We want to be a part of the new normal, and as the UN Women we are focusing on making sure that we respond to the crisis as it unfolds and plan ahead. The areas of focus include ensuring that women are safe and as access to critical GBV services has been an issue globally, with some countries seeing an increase of up to 30% of cases reported by women,” she says.
“We are also focusing on highlighting the burden of care that most women face. We’re analysing the social and economic stimulus offered by governments and another focus is on women in leadership to push for visibility of women during the pandemic.”
Mlambo-Ngcuka and her colleagues Byanyima and Kanem agree that adolescents and young people must also be included in the agenda, while the fight for bodily autonomy should be fought by, and for, all. – Health-e News