We, women belonging to different women’s organisations, united under the Feminist Group sector of the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, are deeply concerned with the diverse and multidimensional gendered impacts of Covid-19 on developing countries as well as developed countries.
In the face of this pandemic, gender commitments, as highlighted by no less than the UN Secretary-General and the Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention, demand the urgent attention and actions of governments, donors, and other development stakeholders. Measures must be implemented to ensure equality between women and men, to counter violence against women and domestic violence, and to mobilise development finance from all sources for protecting women and girls.
We express our concern regarding a lack of women’s participation in decision-making during emergency situation and accountability on women’s issues and to women, the low level of gender-responsiveness among institutions in our countries, and the growth of already heavy burden of care and unpaid domestic work on women.
The glaring weaknesses in inter-ministerial coordination, cooperation, and collaboration between and amongst various stakeholders in the national mechanisms for gender equality and the empowerment of women leads or adds to the isolation of women’s rights and gender equality in the responses to Covid-19. To begin with, the consequences of the crisis are already severe for women, who constitute the majority of those who first face the health crisis and provide care in families and communities. According to UN Women, “globally, women make up 70 per cent of frontline workers in the health and social sector, like nurses, midwives, cleaners and laundry workers.” Women are overrepresented and underpaid in care-related sectors, women, and the crisis has only increased the amount of their unpaid work.
Government policies must address this situation. Sadly, despite the significant data and knowledge available, most of the states’ responses have been inadequate. We also note the impacts of Covid-19 in relation to existing issues affecting women globally:
Growing Violence Against Women
Of the 87,000 women victims of murder around the world in 2017, more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members. This means that every day, 137 women across the globe are killed by a member of their own family. Notably, more than a third, or 30,000 of these murders were committed by current or former intimate partners.
Moreover, each year, as many as 35% of all women experience sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence, or rape, and around 74 million women living in low- and middle-income countries deal with unintended pregnancies. The latest UN global estimates also show that 303,000 women die during childbirth or due to pregnancy-related complications annually. This translates to about 830 women dying every day, or roughly one every two minutes.
We hope that the sheer magnitude of numbers of women facing needless death and violence on a daily basis draws as much attention as Covid-19 does, and lament the insane contrast between how more seriously one is taken than the other. The sad reality is that these problems faced by women and girls will only be intensified during quarantine. Indeed, reports from China, the United Kingdom, USA and France show dramatic increase in gender violence since the lockdowns, and the responses among states have been inexcusably weak and slow.
We also bear witness to the pandemic’s increased impact on vulnerable groups, including on homeless, single and elderly women, migrants, and informal workers, along with the lack of crisis centers and assistance mechanisms in emergency situation. These have been compounded by neoliberal policies, which promoted state abandonment of social services, such as healthcare, housing, and education.
Militarisation and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality amid Covid-19. Worldwide, the response to the pandemic can be described as heavily militarised. The crisis generated by Covid-19 has been likened to war, and the language and scenery of war is very present on TV and political messages.
The declaration of alarm has led to a widespread deployment of armies in the streets. In many countries, it has been an excuse for imposing control and surveillance measures by governments (Israel) and the concentration of powers that pose a risk in states managed by extremist and/or totalitarian regimes (Russia, Hungary, United States, Brazil, Egypt, The Philippines) or in countries that during the last year faced strong social protests, such as Chile and Ecuador in Latin America.
Peacebuilding efforts have since been severely affected by rampant human rights violations during the pandemic, including the suppression of freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, as well as attacks on women human rights defenders. Covid-19 has greatly impacted on ongoing violence, armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies, where refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are at an extremely high risk. Furthermore, travel and mobility restrictions have prevented the delivery of essential services and humanitarian aid to many refugees and IDPs and other vulnerable groups.
The situation is further aggravated by dwindling resources, which have also disrupted the work of many women’s organisations and civil society groups working to promote and protect women’s rights, and build inclusive and sustainable peace.
Official Development Assistance and women’s rights
In the face of the pandemic, we call on states to mobilise financial resources for supporting national responses to Covid-19 and crisis transition and recovery. These, we believe, must be distinct from funds categorised as Official Development Assistance (ODA). We likewise call on donors, financial institutions, and the private sector to support small and medium women’s economic activities in developing countries during the crisis.
For their part, donor countries must more thoroughly track the proportion of official development assistance (ODA) that will go towards the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, through gender-responsive budgeting in developing countries.
In light of all these alarming developments related to the global Covid-19 situation, we call for immediate actions to protect women’s rights. Such actions must be supported by comprehensive and timely data, as well as conscious efforts to involve women in decision-making and political processes, in order to develop gender-sensitive responses to the pandemic.
We also express the following recommendations, gathered from our membership composed of women’s rights advocates around the world:
Set up a multi-stakeholder partnership for comprehensive response to such emergency situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Develop a detailed plan that will describe the roles of all stakeholders, including expected commitments to specific actions addressing women’s needs. The activities compiled therein must be publicised in a timely manner.
Ensure effectiveness of separate units within police departments and telephone hotlines to swiftly respond to domestic violence.
Ensure women's timely access to necessary and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and treatment during the crisis, such asmaternity care, emergency contraception, safe abortion, and delivery.
Reinforce social and equality policies and responses to crisis. We defend a response in line with the “Women, Peace, and Security” agenda, based on securing “human security” dimensions, strengthening community resilience, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and crises, protection of human rights, and women’s rights defenders, and the participation of women in all the responses to the crises.
For governments to realise an all-of-government approach and coordination in addressing challenges faced by women, marked by the strong and meaningful participation of women’s organisations.
For governments to immediately convene an inter-ministerial committee or working group, chaired by the head of the national mechanism for gender equality and the empowerment of women. This body must bring together all ministries and agencies to address women’s needs during the Covid-19 crisis in our countries and ensure that all vulnerable groups’ needs are included. It is important to include representatives of women’s movements in such a committee.
Ensure that local and municipal government authorities take on roles and responsibilities and make important contributions towards protecting women from negative impact of Covid-19, promoting their social protection, and preventing discrimination and violence against women.
Increase allocation of local, national, and international budgets for addressing challenges faced by women and especially vulnerable groups in order to leave no one behind.
Reform compensation mechanisms for women amid the growing burden of care work.
Improve Covid-19 data collection. Develop sex-disaggregated database and gender analysis, including differentiated infection and mortality rates.
i. Include data on impact on diverse groups of women
ii. Conduct differentiated data collection on impact of Covid-19 on women from informal sectors, elderly women, disabled women, etc.
Increase the gender-responsiveness of Covid-19 strategy through:
a. Ensuring the transparency and public access to all pertinent policy, programs, budgets, and actions
b. Promoting the inclusion of women in various decision-making bodies
c. Setting up a concrete accountability mechanism for women’s rights and gender equality at various levels for all development stakeholders.
Ensure that ODA for developing countries is accountable to WRGE and directly contribute to realising gender equality through their own programs, projects and actions.
Mobilise additional to ODA funding for women’s rights and gender equality with a separate accountability process.
Provide women’s organisations in developing countries with adequate funding for their work on promoting women’s rights and empowerment.