It is no news that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated lives around the world by causing 4.6 million deaths and counting and exposing sharp economic and social inequalities. The pandemic widened the already existing gap with the most vulnerable in society, including unequal impacts affecting women and girls by their gender.
During the lockdown, confinement measures intensified gender-based violence and left some girls disadvantaged and marginalized. Worryingly, it looks like we are not learning from the past, as women and girls have gone through similar issues faced as a result of previous health crises. During the Ebola epidemic, a rise in abuse, violence and exploitation faced by women and girls were also reported.
Covid-19 impact on Women’s Health
Quick access to proper health services, the proficiency to exercise rights and freedom, and claiming equal opportunities irrespective of gender are crucial for women’s rights and human rights. Lessons must be learnt from the pandemic to ensure these rights are strengthened and respected.
Effect of Covid-19 on sexual and reproductive health
Local and Standard health systems all over the world have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic as they are all trying to keep up with the care demands.
The pandemic in some ways has resulted in collateral damage to women’s health. Many countries failed to keep sexual and reproductive health services available, resulting in neglect and a rise in risks to women’s health.
A total of 40 studies on maternal and perinatal outcomes published in The Lancet surmised that there had been a considerable increase in stillbirth, maternal death, and maternal depression as a result of the pandemic and the United Nations Population Fund identified that in 115 low- and middle-income countries there has been an average of 3.6 months disruption faced by women who couldn’t access family planning services, resulting in a projected 7 million unintended pregnancies.
The pandemic weakened maternal health services in Nepal with an increase in maternal deaths as 258 women died due to pregnancy or childbirth between March 2020 and June 2021, compared with 51 maternal deaths in the year before COVID-19
Effects of Covid-19 on women and young women
During occurrences like crises, pandemics, or epidemics, girls and young women are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society and therefore imperilled to higher risks of mental, physical and psychological abuse. A new study conducted in India by the BMJ Paediatrics reports ravaging impacts and reveals that gender disparities heightened during the pandemic were noted in areas such as marital rape, family violence and threats into a forced marriage, with girls and young women disproportionally affected. In the African country Uganda, there were increased accounts of child negligence and physical or sexual abuse against children were reported, with the girl child being the most affected.
Even though the World Bank has ascertained that investment in and promotion of the girl child education results in the decrease in the rate of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and infant mortality, and enhanced maternal health and financial growth, as well as a path to social justice, UNESCO has estimated that 11 million girls might not have the opportunity to return to school due to the pandemic – imperilling their future.
What can be done to increase women and girls’ inclusiveness?
- Lend a voice to women and girls:
Women should be included in the centre of Covid recovery processes and their needs, challenges, and solutions must be given a listening ear. Empowering women and girls has proven to boost the health and well-being of the family and society.
- Sexual and reproductive health should be normalized:
Normalize the creation of women’s health services as important health services during outbreaks and support the World Health Organization’s operational guidance in maintaining essential health services during an outbreak.
- Embrace positive changes:
It is everyone’s task to wake up, recognize the hard reality of inequality and become an active actor in the solution process.
- Girls and young women should be returned to school:
The educational system should be transformed through the promotion of distance learning programmes for everyone including the most marginalized, and integrate new teaching methods addressing girls and young women’s unique needs for safety, health and well-being.
We hope you find this insightful.