9 December 2020

The recent Policy Brief of the Secretary General, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women”, analysed the effects of COVID-19 on all sectors of women’s lives and most of their living experiences. It focused more on urban settings in developed and underdeveloped countries than on rural areas and natural disaster situations.

This commentary will highlight measures that the United Nations could undertake to help women in developing countries overcome the many negative impacts of COVID-19. Some of the recommendations set out below may not necessarily be related to COVID-19, as we are revisiting our global relations and economy with the aim of achieving more equity and attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Recommendations on COVID-19 and the economy

The United Nations could provide agricultural inputs to women in rural areas to enhance production and reduce workload through the use of appropriate technologies along the chain of agriculture production Working with national Governments, the Organization could disseminate information on how women’s immunity and ability to fight COVID-19 could be strengthened through the adoption of healthy diets that include nutritious rural produce.

The United Nations could assist in the establishment of “women shareholders multipurpose cooperatives” in both urban and rural settings. Such cooperatives could serve as channels for the dissemination of information and for the provision of assistance in dealing with COVID-19. The World Bank could help governments adopt cash transfer systems using mobile banking mechanisms to reach poor women in rural and urban areas. This would necessitate capacity-building for women in civil service, banks and cooperatives.

A special gender-sensitive monitoring system should be developed and adopted by central and commercial banks to ensure that loans and cash transfers target and reach vulnerable women. Such a system could also guarantee that cash transfers do not fall into the hands of men and the less needy. The United Nations could develop gender-sensitive monitoring and impact checklists to assist countries with follow-up and assessment of their achievements in all sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendations on COVID-19 and the health sector

The United Nations could help developing countries provide women with health insurance packages, since women’s access to health services is often limited. Health promotion and self-care messages could be developed, taking into consideration cultural and educational levels, and tailored to the needs of women, while emphasizing the importance of equal rights to health care.

Recommendations on COVID-19 and unpaid care work

National Governments could develop information packages on eliminating stereotypes related to gender and reproductive roles, featuring images of new patterns of families spending time together and sharing workloads during the pandemic. The activities of women-led NGOs could be documented on social media platforms, highlighting their activism and engagement. Special funds could be allocated for media programmes that amplify the voices of women and emphasize the importance of their representation in the fields of science and politics, among others, during the pandemic.

Nasrin Akter is a community organizer in Dhaka, Bangladesh, working under the UNDP Livelihoods Improvement of Urban Poor Communities (LIUPC) project. She raises awareness about COVID-19 among marginalized people. © UN-Women Asia and the Pacific/Flickr

Gender-based violence during COVID-19

The United Nations should help governments in developing countries ensure that girls do not drop out of schools due to extended school closures and protect them from early marriage. The impact of COVID-19 could lead to an increased occurrence of early marriage due to poverty, as impoverished families may be inclined to reduce the burden of taking care of their young girls. Girl students and their families should be targeted with financial support packages, home visits and monitoring to guarantee their protection. The United Nations could persuade countries that allow the marriage of girls at 10 years of age to criminalize such marriages.

The United Nations should take the opportunity presented by the pandemic to protect girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) using a holistic approach of health protection from the pandemic and FGM. It could ensure that local governments support accessibility and referral pathways to medical, psychosocial support and mental health services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly in conflict-affected countries.

The impact of COVID-19 in humanitarian and fragile settings

The United Nations should address the impact of natural disasters during the pandemic. In such cases, special measures must be implemented to reach women who may have lost household members, property, fields and animals, as women may not be able to meet rescue teams and humanitarian organizations on the ground. There is a need to improve the utilization of mobile applications by women in fragile settings to report and access services through mobile devices.

The United Nations needs to help design socioeconomic, gender-sensitive tools, including checklists for planning, monitoring and evaluating impacts through the use of modern media technologies to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment. The international community must strive to achieve the SDGs, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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