The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed “decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights,” according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In an address to a virtual town hall meeting with young women from civil society organisations he remarked that, “without a concerted response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains.

Guterres said that since the start of the pandemic women have been on the front lines of the response, as healthcare workers, teachers, essential staff and as carers in their families and communities. Yet, while 70 to 90 percent of healthcare workers are women, only 30 percent are in decision-making roles.

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Guterres also pointed out at the escalating rate of dropouts among teenage girls, due to school closure, “Today, millions of teenage girls around the world are out of school, and there are alarming reports of an increase in teenage pregnancies in some countries,” said he, adding, “We know from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that when teenage girls leave school, they may never return.

The secretary-general then went on to speak about the “disturbing reports from around the world of skyrocketing levels of gender-based violence, as many women are effectively confined with their abusers, while resources and support services are redirected.” According to Guterres, women are suffering because funding is being redirected from maternal and reproductive health services. He said the U.N. has also urged governments to prioritise the protection of women from gender-based violence in their national COVID-19 plans, revealing that he was “heartened” that more than 140 governments “committed to taking action to designate women’s shelters as essential and to continue and expand online services.”

“In short,” he said, “the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential,” warning that “progress lost may take years, even generations, to recover.” Even in April this year,  UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged governments to ‘put women and girls at the centre of their efforts to recover from COVID-19 and that starts with women as leaders, with equal representation and decision-making power’.

Why it matters

In India, the pandemic has led to an increased rate of unsafe abortions and unintended pregnancies among women. Marie Stopes, a global non-profit organisation for women, estimated that disrupted services could result in 20 lakh additional unsafe abortions, 6.5 lakh unintended pregnancies and 2,600 maternal deaths.

Female workforce participation has also suffered due to COVID-19. Women’s share in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has dipped to an eight-year low at 52.46 percent, the lowest since 2013-14. Women were also over-represented in the job cuts and terminations since the beginning of the pandemic.

A surge has also been marked in crimes committed against women during the pandemic. The National Commission of Women (NCW) reportedly received 2,914 complaints of crimes against women in the month of July, the highest since November 2018, signalling a surge of gender-based violence amidst the pandemic.

Picture Credit: Deccan Herald

 

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