GENEVA (20 April 2020) – Governments must ensure women from diverse groups and backgrounds are included in decisions at the local, national and international level in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of UN experts urged in a statement today.
“Women are particularly exposed, with many on the frontlines in the COVID-19 fight, providing essential medical and other services, and keeping communities running,” said human rights expert Meskerem Geset Techane, who currently chairs the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.
“Measures to mitigate the risks to health and life posed by COVID-19 must consider the specific risks faced by women and girls, based on factors such as their sex, gender, age, disability, ethnic origin, and immigration or residence status among others,” Meskerem said. Otherwise, many different forms of discrimination they already face would be exacerbated.
“They face restrictions on the provision of health services essential to women and girls and are at greater risk of domestic violence while shelters do not have sufficient capacity for all victims who need protection. Femicides are being reported with alarming frequency,” the UN expert said.
As well as providing universal health care for all women and girls, including uninterrupted access to a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, states must ensure access to support services, emergency measures and legal assistance for those at risk of or who are subjected to domestic and sexual violence, Meskerem said.
The disproportionate share of women’s care responsibilities, due to cultural stereotypes on gender roles within the family, has increased significantly, affecting physical and mental health.
“Women also face a higher risk of harm from the social and economic shocks linked to measures to curb the pandemic, as they are represented disproportionately in precarious, informal, poorly paid work, including domestic work and lack adequate social protection,” the expert noted.
Some women already enduring discrimination are at particular risk of being further marginalised. Indigenous, migrant and elderly women, as well as women with disabilities lack inclusive information on prevention strategies and on how and where to get health services. Rural and poor women without access to clean water at home must collect water in crowded public spaces to cover basic needs.
Meskerem also said women were under-represented on COVID-19 response teams, policy spaces and decision-making. “At this critical time, States must ensure that policy decisions are taken with the equal and meaningful participation of women from diverse groups,” the UN expert said.
“The crisis is an opportunity to address structural inequalities and deficits that have consistently held women back and re-imagine and transform societies. We recommend that women’s voices be heard and their leadership recognised, so that the solutions they recommend can be implemented.”
(*) The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls was established by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. It is comprised of five independent experts: Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane (current Chair), Ms. Elizabeth Broderick (Vice Chair), Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Ivana Radačić, and Ms. Melissa Upreti.