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Women on the front lines are more affected by COVID-19 – UN Report

A new report by the United Nations (UN) has shown that women on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic are more affected by COVID-19.

The report says, globally, 70% of the health and social care workforce is female and they are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers.

Published by UN Women, the report summarises the data, research and policy work on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls, including how it is affecting extreme poverty, employment, health, unpaid care and violence against women and girls.

The report also brings into focus the paucity of gender data and calls for greater investment and prioritization of data on the gendered effects of the crisis.

According to the report titled, From insights to action: Gender equality in the wake of Covid-19, it says that “many women are sacrificing their health for economic security. Globally, women make up 70 per cent of the health and social care workforce, and they are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers. This exposure raises the risk of infection.

“Recent data from Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States show confirmed COVID-19 cases among female health workers are two to three times higher than those observed among their male counterparts.

“Personal care workers are also at high risk due to their close contact with others. Migrant women and women from marginalized ethnic groups are often overrepresented in these occupations. Economic necessity forces many to continue working, despite the risk of infection for them and their families.

“Greater efforts are needed to guarantee the health and safety of essential female workers and to provide affordable, quality care for their children.”

Targeted efforts are needed to protect women workers

“Women’s lesser access to land, financial capital and other assets makes it harder for them to weather a crisis, bounce back and rebuild their small businesses. Emerging evidence from UN Women’s rapid gender assessment surveys in Europe and Central Asia highlights the impacts on self-employed women and men.

“While men are more likely to see their working hours reduced (54 per cent of men vs. 50 per cent of women), more women have lost their jobs or businesses as a result of COVID-19 (25 per cent of women vs. 21 per cent of men).

“Women-owned businesses need grants and other stimulus funding targeted specifically to them. Moreover, governments must protect the health, safety and incomes of vulnerable female workers, including those in the informal sector. These efforts should be sustained, expanded and anchored in legal and financial frameworks.”

The pandemic exposes women’s precarious economic security

“740 million women work in the informal economy.  Their income fell by during the first month of the pandemic. In Asia and the Pacific, more women than men in formal employment reported drops in working time. 50% of women and 35% men.

“In Europe and Central Asia,25% of Self- employed women reported job losses, compared to 21% men.”

“A gender-aware response to COVID-19 requires greater support and social protection for women workers, including investments in universal, gender-responsive Social protection systems to support women’s income security.

 “Expanded access to affordable, quality childcare services to enable women to remain in or (re)enter the workforce. Reversal of long-standing inequalities, including unequal division of work at home, the gender pay gap and pervasive undervaluation of work done by women.”

 For many women and girls, home is not a safe place

“Globally, an estimated 243 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last year. Emerging data show that violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Violent partners may use confinement to further exercise power and control. At the same time, women have less income, fewer opportunities for social contact, and limited access to services and community support, all of which give them fewer exit options.”

Pandemics intensify other forms of violence and discrimination

“Evidence across countries shows that women with disabilities are two times more likely to experience violence from partners and family members than women without disabilities35 and up to 10 times more likely to suffer from sexual violence.

 “In the context of lockdowns, institutionalized women with disabilities may also be at further risk of violence when visitors and monitors are not allowed. Evidence from previous pandemics reveals increased violence against female health workers, online violence, femicide, harmful practices, and racial and ethnic discrimination and violence.

 “In China, Italy, Singapore and countless other countries, there have been reports of both physical and verbal attacks on health care workers linked to COVID-19. Similarly, people of Asian descent have been the target of verbal abuse, harassment and violence in public spaces across the globe.”

Domestic violence has grown globally in parallel to the virus

 “Before the pandemic:  18% of ever-partnered women and girls aged 15 to 49 had experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hand of a current or previous partner in the previous 12 months. More than 1/3 of women who are intentionally killed are murdered by a current or former intimate partner.”

“Since the lockdown: Domestic violence calls have increased. In Tunisia, calls to a helpline in the first days of confinement increased fivefold. However, other countries have seen a decline in reports, suggesting that some women face barriers to reporting violence or seeking help.”

 Recommendations

The report recommended services for survivors of violence must be part of the pandemic response.

“Safe access to support services and emergency measures, including legal assistance and judicial remedies, is urgently needed, but it has been curtailed amid lockdowns in some countries.

“Measures to protect women from violence must be a standard part of government responses to the pandemic, as well as longer-term recovery packages. This includes ensuring shelters stay open as essential services, or repurposing unused spaces to provide shelter to women and girls who are forced to leave their homes to escape abuse. 

“In addition, shelters need more resources so they can expand to accommodate quarantine needs and increased demand. Also required is greater support to hotlines and women’s rights organizations working on the front lines. 

“Government responses to the surge in violence against women have been uneven. Analysis reveals a range of measures taken, including awareness-raising campaigns, expansion of hotlines and other reporting mechanisms, support for shelters, and measures to address impunity and strengthen women’s access to justice.”

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