Women are especially vulnerable to the affects of the current COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the world, with disruptions to sexual and reproductive health services and reduced access to gender-based violence services.
According to the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund Dr Natalia Kanem, the pandemic can worsen existing financial inequalities between men and women and place pregnant women with antenatal care needs in jeopardy.
Furthermore, women in volatile domestic situations can be trapped at home with little to no access to alternative safety measures. Counselling and support services may also be closed, and other welfare programs are dwindling to a bare minimum.
Last week, Dr Kanem released a statement calling on donors to fund the UN Population Fund’s COVID-19 response to address the shortage of available support systems in countries with weak public health programs.
“UNFPA’s efforts will focus on strengthening health systems, procuring and delivering essential supplies to protect health workers, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services, and promoting risk communication and community engagement,” she wrote.
— UNFPA (@UNFPA) April 2, 2020
Dr Kanem’s statement recognised the need to support women in particularly vulnerable situations, including pregnant women with special needs, women in abusive relationships, women with disabilities and women in refugee camps who don’t have access to running water, clean sanitation, or the privilege to ‘social distance’ themselves from others.
She offered a link to a series of guidance documents which include technical briefs for adolescents and young people, addressing gender-based violence within the context of the COVID-19’s Prevention, Protection and Response, and Sexual and Reproductive-Health and Rights, Material and Newborn Health during the Pandemic.
Dr Kanem stressed the importance of having preparatory procedures in place to fight the fallout of the pandemic, insisting that sexual and reproductive health services continue to operate in vulnerable countries, and that there is access to available forms of contraception, safe abortions and post-abortion services. Currently, the UNFPA is also developing emergency reproductive health kits to distribute around Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Almost 70% of the world’s global health and social sector workforce are women. Making up such a large percentage of the medical frontline, the UNFPA hopes that adequate psychological support is being made available for those health workers.
Sadly, when it comes to the challenges faced by women during this global pandemic, it doesn’t just stop at our health. Women are also more likely to hold jobs outside a permanent, full-time capacity, which means many of them on part time, casual, temporary or other precarious statuses will be hit most severely when the economy grows volatile.
In the last month or so, the UNFPA have delivered hygiene items for the vulnerable and PPE for health workers and midwives in China, Iran and the Philippines. The organisation hopes to continue distributing targeted information campaigns, and ensure family planning services are still operating.