26 March 2020
UNFPA Highlights Threats of COVID-19 Pandemic to Women and Girls
UN Photo/Gill Fickling
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The brief titled, ‘COVID-19: A Gender Lens,' highlights how a pandemic can heighten domestic violence risk, teenage pregnancy, and the diversion of resources from sexual and reproductive health.

The authors also note that women's participation in care work raises their risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The technical brief was released by the UN Population Fund on 19 March 2020.

A technical brief from the UN Population Fund sheds light on how a disease outbreak can have different impacts on women and men. It highlights that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a significant public health issue, and require high attention during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The brief titled, ‘COVID-19: A Gender Lens: Protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and promoting gender equality,’ was released on 19 March 2020. It notes that in times of crisis, increased household tensions can increase the risk of domestic violence. At the same time, the systems for protecting women and girls may weaken or break down. 

With schools closed around the world, girls are more exposed to sexual violence and unwanted pregnancy.

With schools around the world closed during the pandemic, the technical brief notes that girls are more exposed to sexual violence and unwanted pregnancy, based on experiences in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016. In Sierra Leone, schools closed for nine months, and the country saw a spike of 18,000 teenage pregnancies. Many of the girls were then banned from attending school when it reopened, leading some to miss university entrance exams.

An expert from Equality Now said the majority of these teenagers “were violated in the context of the Ebola virus quarantine. People were told to stay home, and many girls were violated by their relatives and neighbors and people they knew.”

On sexual and reproductive health, services and resources may be diverted to deal with the outbreak, which can lead to outcomes such as increased maternal and newborn mortality, increased unmet need for contraception, and increased number of unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections. In addition, supply chain strains due to the pandemic can affect services and commodities for menstrual health and other aspects of sexual and reproductive health. 

The authors also note that women’s “front-line interaction with communities and their participation in much of the care work” heightens their risk of exposure. At the same time, their proximity to the community makes women “well placed to positively influence the design and implementation of prevention activities and community engagement.” [UNFPA press release] [Publication: COVID-19: A gender lens: Protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and promoting gender equality

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