The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is drastically changing the way that millions of women, men, girls and boys around the world lead their lives. Jordan, a country hosting more than 700 000 refugees in a troubled region, has like most other countries in the world been deeply affected by the shock of COVID- 19 to its economy and social system. Previous infectious disease outbreaks have shown us that pandemics can bring about or worsen humanitarian emergencies and amplify the risks that women and girls will face gender-based violence (GBV) and circumscribe sexual and reproductive health (SRH) rights and services.
In April 2020, the UNFPA Jordan country program in coordination with Plan International and the Institute for Family Health (IFH)Noor Al Hussein Foundation commissioned a rapid assessment of the COVID-19 situation in Jordan. The overall purpose of this rapid assessment is to measure the impact of COVID-19 on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights among adolescent girls (defined as girls ages(10-17) and young women aged (18-24) in Jordan, including persons with disabilities (PwD).
These findings from this study are derived from a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods with about 400 respondents including:
- 360 remote and telephone surveys targeting adolescent and adult men and women in Irbid, Karak, Amman governorates and Azraq and Za’atari refugee camps;
- 28 key informant interviews (KII) with GBV and SRH service providers, youth educators, and members of the government; and
- Two focus group discussions (FGD) with women and girls from the refugee and Jordanian population;
A review of literature on the gendered dimensions of infectious disease outbreaks, with a particular focus on the impacts of pandemics on gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health, was conducted to inform the analysis and contextualize the findings of this assessment.
The most important key findings of this assessment are:
• Women, girls, men, and boys across all age groups are feeling greater stress and anxiety due to the pandemic: Women,girls, men, and boys in the survey are experiencing more worry and stress due to the pandemic and the measures taken by the government to limit the spread of the virus. 71 per cent of all respondents experience worry related to the pandemic, while adult women in particular reported high levels of worry at 78 per cent. Syrians generally reported higher levels of worry than Jordanians by around 10 per cent, while the refugees of other nationalities (Sudanese, Egyptian, and Gazan) reported very high levels of stress. Palestinians reported the lowest level of concern about the pandemic. Respondents are most concerned about the prospect of a family member being infected with the virus and their own risk of infection.
• Women, girls, men, and boys are worried about the economic consequences and have limited access to income-generating activities and material assistance: 86 percent of all respondents believe that the pandemic will threaten economic security and potentially lead to more poverty, and only 55 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men reported that they are able to meet their family’s basic needs during the curfew. Women and girls are far less likely to be able to access IGA and material assistance across the age groups than men and boys, reporting 50 percent or less Access than male counterparts. For example, only seven per cent of adolescent girls reported accessing IGA or material assistance in comparison to 24 percent of boys of the same age. Women and girls’ inhibited access to this vital assistance in comparison to men and boys renders them especially vulnerable to dependency on their family, partners, and or aid agencies, in turn intensifying the risk they will experience exploitation or denial of resources. Given the high level of anxiety reported by respondents on the economic impacts of the pandemic, it is important to ensure assistance for all groups, but to be especially conscious of the current inequalities experienced by women and girls in relation to this risk of sexual exploitation.
• Adolescent girls and boys fear their education is compromised by the pandemic: 88 percent of adolescent girls and boys shared that they are pursuing a form of remote learning; Jordanian boys and girls report higher levels of remote learning than Syrians, while the small number of refugees from other nationalities reported high levels of access, while Palestinians came in at 50 per cent. Boys and girls are contending with the frustrations and challenges, including non-optimal network and Internet connection and difficulties adapting to the new mode of learning. Adolescent girls in the FGD reported stress related to their inability to go to school as this is a positive experience and expressed concern that these educational changes will negatively impact their futures.
• Adolescent girls bear higher household burdens and have fewer positive outlets: 55 percent of adolescent girls reported that they and their peers are doing more household chores with the pandemic and the lockdown measures. Girls are also disproportionately taking on care of younger children in the household and helping them with their studies, leaving less time for themselves. Girls also lamented their inability to go out and meet their friends and attend school and express distress over the uncertainty of the future. When asked where they can go to express their concerns about COVID-19 and ask for information and assistance, nearly half of girls named their family or their spouses, suggesting that many girls lack such an outlet in which they have a high level of trust outside of the family setting.
• Gender-based Violence—particularly domestic violence— has increased since the pandemic: A majority 69 percent of all survey respondents as well as key informants and women and girls in FGDs agree that GBV has increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Emotional and physical abuse—often perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the family—were named as the most common types of GBV. This bears out the large number of anecdotal reports of increased violence against women and girls, despite the fact that the number of cases registered in the GBVIMS has gone down during the same period. This points to the idea that help-seeking behaviors have gone down at the same time that GBV has increased. Shame, stigmatization of victims, and social pressure continue to be hard barriers to reporting violence, and the restrictions on movement are an additional obstacle.
• Accessing GBV and SRH services has become more difficult since the pandemic: Women and girls agree that obtaining GBV and SRH services prior to the pandemic was less difficult than during the lockdown. Some women and girls also report having used virtual SRH and GBV services, though there are age differences as a greater percentage adolescent girls from 10-17(48 percent) had accessed a virtual service than young women from 18 to 24 (38 percent) and adult women from (25 to 23) 49 percent), suggesting that virtual services are more accessible to adolescent girls. Women and girls who had taken part in virtual services generally received these well and said the service made them feel better, though KIIs with service providers stated that virtual services are not a true replacement for in-person services.