All types of violence against women and girls have increased since the coronavirus began to spread and claim lives in a massive way, according to a publication by UN Women. But that is not the only threat: the pandemic has been in charge of putting them on the ropes in the face of job loss, school dropouts and risk of mental illness.
So on this International Women’s Day, we rescued five inequalities that the covid-19 pandemic worsened for women.
One in three women has been a victim of sexual or physical violence in the world. And while the 35% figure is quite high, it does not include sexual harassment. UN Women warned that as a result of the pandemic, calls to helplines have increased fivefold in some countries.
All because of the increase in domestic violence. Simply put, some women are locked in with their assailants, while being cut off from people and resources who can help them. To which we must add that less than 40% of women victims of violence seek some kind of help.
Another factor is that they do not know where they can go for support services.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) calculated in April 2020 that for six months that the confinement is prolonged “31 million more cases of gender-based violence are expected.”
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said in 2020 that according to a survey carried out in six Latin American countries between 60% and 76% of women (about 2 out of 3) have been victims of gender-based violence in different areas of their life.
Like the coronavirus, violence has also claimed lives: every day 137 women are killed by members of their family. While this figure from UN Women is pre-pandemic despite being the most recent available, it may have risen due to lockdowns.
A trend that is repeated in Latin America, a region that has 14 of the 25 countries with the highest femicide rates in the world, according to a report by UN Women in 2018. The UN Gender Equality Observatory for 24 countries in the region recorded that 4,640 women were victims of femicide in 2019.
One of the first blows that the Covid-19 dealt was against jobs, especially those of women. UN Secretary General António Guterres noted that in many countries “the first wave of collective layoffs” was severe in the service sector. Precisely where women “are overrepresented.”
In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, they reached 80% in 2019. Which means that more women compared to men lost their jobs. And, therefore, their livelihood and economic independence.
“There is a giant gap between men and women in the labor and economic sectors, which has been greatly affected by the pandemic,” Catalina Calderón, director of Latin America and the Caribbean of the NGO Women’s Equality Center, told Citizen Free Press in the reproductive freedom of women.
Calderón said that the fact that women are losing their jobs “has everything to do with violence. In most cases, domestic violence has a very high economic weight”. Calderón’s explanation is that when women are economically independent, there is a brake on the control over them by their partners, which translates into violence.
But when they lose their jobs, that independence is gone.
“Violence starts with the control of economic non-dependence. We have seen it in this pandemic, the numbers of femicide are very high,” she insisted.
However, 70% of women’s employment in developing countries is in the informal sector. A situation that has two consequences: they do not have social benefits for their work and the pandemic affected the offer that allowed them to work.
According to the UN, COVID-19 “will disproportionately affect” women because “they earn less, save less and have more vulnerable jobs” than men. In its most recent report, ECLAC recorded that in 2020 inequality in employment rates and labor participation worsened, especially for women.
Thus, “the unjust sexual division of labor and social organization of care” threaten their autonomy and exercise of rights.
Precisely, the confinements overloaded the unpaid care activities that women already carried out in the home. Before the pandemic, on an average day, women spent almost three times more time on unpaid household chores than men. And the covid-19 crisis did not change that.
According to a survey conducted in 17 countries in 2020, men and women took more responsibility for household chores, but most of the work continues to fall on them.
Did you know that 70% of health workers, so applauded in the midst of this pandemic, are women? And that despite being the majority, they earn less than men? The average wage gap in the health sector is 28%, according to the WHO. Women’s work contributes $ 3 trillion to global health.
Although, half of that figure corresponds to unpaid care work. In addition, with covid-19 came another inequality: in some countries, coronavirus infections among health workers are double that of their male colleagues.
UNESCO projected by 2020 that 11 million girls could not go back to school due to the pandemic. To give you an idea: that is equivalent to the total population of Bolivia. Now, when a girl stops receiving an education, that puts her at risk of teenage pregnancies, early and forced marriages, abuse and violence.
“For many girls, school is more than a key to a better future. It is a lifesaver,” says UNESCO. In addition, the UN highlighted that previous epidemics have shown that adolescent girls run the risk of not returning to study even after the crisis.
But it is not only the risk of school dropout. The burden of care work increased by COVID-19 also falls on girls. That means they could take on additional tasks around the home, when they already spent many more hours doing these tasks than their male counterparts, according to the UN.
And the outlook can only be complicated if we take into account that the abrupt loss of household income will generate pressure for children and adolescents to leave school and enter the labor market due to the need to generate income, warned UNICEF.
Before the pandemic, there were already millions of girls who were not going to achieve minimum levels of skills, knowledge and opportunities to lead a full productive life.
A WHO study revealed that the pandemic has affected or paralyzed essential mental health services in 93% of countries. Which is especially worrisome in the case of women who are victims of domestic violence. 67% reported disturbances “in psychological counseling and psychotherapy services.”
In addition, women who face “a large part of the burden at home and suffer disproportionate effects more generally.”
Research published in the library of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that those who experience partner violence, are pregnant, postpartum, or have had an abortion have a high risk of developing mental health problems amid the pandemic.
In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, 18 million more women could lose access to modern contraceptives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UN Women estimates. And this is because many sexual and reproductive health services, including maternity and gender-based violence care, were reassigned to address the crisis.
What, the organism warned, will generate an increase in maternal mortality, in the rates of adolescent pregnancies and of sexually transmitted diseases.
“Many women in our region secretly take birth control pills. There are myths in which it is believed that a woman who uses contraceptives has a high probability of being unfaithful. Which is absolutely ridiculous. Taking contraceptives is a way of guaranteeing our right to decide,” said Catalina Calderón of the Women’s Equality Center.
In addition, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that there will be 7 million unwanted pregnancies for every six months that lockdown is extended. “For every three months that the confinement is maintained, there will be up to 2 million more women who cannot use modern contraceptives,” the organization warned.
And along the same lines, Calderón assured that during the pandemic, access to legal and safe abortions increased throughout the region. “You have to determine how the barriers became so high that we are going to see a result of this pandemic in the next two years,” she said.
Partly due to the difficulties in accessing medical assistance due to the covid-19 emergency. In addition to “the stigmatization and judgment around abortion,” Calderón warned.
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