Posted by Kimberley Meijers on March 25, 2020 at 10:00 am
Disease outbreaks affect women and men differently, and pandemics make existing inequalities for women and girls and discrimination of other marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities and those in extreme poverty, worse. This needs to be considered, given the different impacts surrounding detection and access to treatment for women and men.
Women represent 70 percent of the health and social sector workforce globally and special attention should be given to how their work environment may expose them to discrimination, as well as thinking about their sexual and reproductive health and psychosocial needs as frontline health workers.
In times of crisis such as an outbreak, women and girls may be at higher risk of intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence due to increased tensions in the household. As systems that protect women and girls, including community structures, may weaken or break down, specific measures should be implemented to protect women and girls from the risk of intimate partner violence with the changing dynamics of risk imposed by COVID-19.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights is a significant public health issue that requires high attention during pandemics.
Safe pregnancies and childbirth depend on functioning health systems and strict adherence
to infection prevention.
Provision of family planning and other sexual and reproductive health commodities, including menstrual health items, are central to women’s health, empowerment, and sustainable development and may be impacted as supply chains undergo strains from pandemic response.
Continuity of care must be ensured in case of severe facility service interruption or other disruption in access for women and girls of reproductive age. Obstacles and barriers must be addressed, enabling women’s and girls’ access to services, including psychosocial support services, especially those subject to violence or who may be at risk of violence in quarantine.
Gender based violence referral pathways must be updated to reflect changes in available care facilities, while key communities and service providers must be informed about those updated pathways.
Pregnant women with respiratory illnesses must be treated with utmost priority due to increased risk of adverse outcomes, and antenatal, neonatal and maternal health units must be segregated from identified COVID-19 cases.
Surveillance and response systems should include sex, age gender, and pregnancy status disaggregation.
Provision of mental health and psychosocial support for affected individuals, families, communities and health workers is a critical part of the response.
All health workers, including women, responding to COVID-19 must have personal protective equipment.
Given women’s front-line interaction with communities and their participation in much of the care work, they face a higher risk of exposure. With such proximity to the community, women are also well placed to positively influence the design and implementation of prevention activities and community engagement.
Provision of accurate and supportive care and messaging must be done with the intention to enhance people’s safety, dignity and rights.
Leveraging UNFPA expertise and experience in community engagement, social mobilization and extensive networks in different constituencies such as youth and women’s organizations, religious and traditional leaders, should be utilized to raise awareness, protect and support young people, women, families and communities. This will also support building their knowledge on COVID-19 protection to contain infection spread, promote healthy behaviour change, prevent risky transmission of COVID-19 among communities and reduce stigma and discrimination.
UNFPA will work closely with governments, WHO, other agencies working on health (H6), and national partners to ensure that accurate information is provided to women, including those of reproductive age and pregnant women, on infection prevention, potential risks and how to seek timely medical care, as well as protection from gender based violence.
Read UNFPA’s full technical brief here