Gender-based violence & COVID-19

In 2020, the international community’s plan was to embark on its decade of action for the Sustainable Development Goals, honour major declarations such as Beijing and determine how to accelerate sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest challenges including gender related goals. But things did not go as planned. Instead, today’s world is facing a ‘global crisis unlike any other in the 75 year history the United Nations.’ While consensus differs among States as they make fragmented attempts to deal with this challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate existing gender inequalities.

One recent study entitled the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage, illustrated how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect women and girls’ lives without effective intervention. It observed that while governments are taking unprecedented measures to limit the spread of the virus, those measures are also reducing prevention and protection efforts as well as social services and care for women or girls in a number of ways.

For example, by disrupting women or girls’ access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, approximately 47 million women in 114 low-and middle-income countries may be unable to use modern contraceptives if the COVID-19 related disruptions continue for 6 months with major interruptions to services. For every 3 months the lockdown continues, assuming high levels of disruption, up to 2 million additional women will continue to be unable to use modern contraceptives. The number of unintended pregnancies would continue to increase as the lockdown continued and services disruptions were extended.

The COVID-19 pandemic would also be likely to undermine any efforts to end gender-based violence and harmful practices. For instance, as a result of diverting or reducing the above services for victims, there would also be a 33 percent reduction in any progress which had been made towards ending gender based violence including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by 2030. In addition, if the lockdown continued for 6 months, 31 million additional gender-based violence cases could be expected with an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence for every 3 months the lockdown continued after that. As to FGM, we could also expect 2 million additional FGM cases to occur over the next decade that would otherwise have been averted.

The study also predicted that the pandemic’s effect in disrupting any interventions to reduce child marriage would lower the number of child marriages averted by an estimated 7.4 million. If one added an estimated 5.6 million additional child marriages which were also likely to take place between 2020 and 2030 due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the total effect of the pandemic on child marriage would be that 13 million child marriages would take place that otherwise would not have occurred between 2020 and 2030.

A global pandemic demands a unified global response but based on the above predictions, it is crucial for States to ensure that policy responses to the COVID 19 pandemic’s crisis take into account the differential priorities and needs of women, men, girls and boys and do not undermine the policies and plans that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

By Linda Witong, SI Special Advisor to Advocacy

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