Novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is having devastating impacts globally. As of 26th March, 414,179 confirmed cases and 18,440 deaths have been recorded across 178 countries. To date, the Pacific has confirmed cases in Guam, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Fiji, PNG and suspected cases in Samoa.
For the Pacific, COVID-19 presents a range of contextual challenges including multiple islands, vast distances and limited resources.In most Pacific countries, access to quality health services including intensive care is limited. 9 Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases, represent the single largest cause of premature mortality in the Pacific. 10 Food security and livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to shocks due to semisubsistence lifestyles and a high reliance on the informal sector for income.
A COVID-19 outbreak in the Pacific could disproportionately affect women and girls in a number of ways including adverse impacts to their education, food security and nutrition, health, livelihoods, and protection. Women are the primary care givers in the family and are key health care frontline responders placing them at increased risk and exposure to infection. Maternal and sexual reproductive health needs continue in an emergency but risk being de-prioritised. COVID-19 risks increasing women’s workloads, caring for children as schools close and the sick.
Additionally, there is a risk of increased family violence in a region where pre-existing rates of violence against women are already very high.
Men's gender roles and norms need to be taken into account in order to ensure that men are properly targeted to help reduce their vulnerability to illness and to leverage their roles as leaders and decision makers in the home and in the community to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Recommendation 1: Conduct Country Specific Gender, Disability and Inclusion Analyses with contextualised response recommendations
Recommendation 2: Ensure availability of sex and age disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, economic impacts, care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse
Recommendation 3: Commence COVID-19 risk communication and awareness immediately, engaging women in the development, design and delivery of risk communication and awareness materials
Recommendation 4: Ensure response teams include men, women and people with disabilities and that essential protection policies and mechanisms are in place
Recommendation 5: Ensure meaningful engagement of women and girls in all COVID-19 decision making on preparedness and response at the national, provincial and community levels, including their networks and organizations, to ensure efforts and response are not further discriminating and excluding those most at risk
Recommendation 6: Ensure preparedness and response activities target men, women, boys, girls, people with disabilities and other marginalized groups and include specific SRH and economic recovery initiatives
Recommendation 7: Prioritize services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by COVID-19
Women as primary care givers and with high domestic responsibilities including food security, will have an increased workload
Women are key frontline responders in the health care system placing them at increased risk and exposure to infection.
Women’s engagement in decision making and leadership is low despite domestic responsibilities and role as health care providers
Women are well placed to deliver community risk communications due to their roles, responsibilities and networks
Women’s economic status will be affected as key sectors such as tourism are impacted and quarantine measures affect the informal sector
Gender based violence may increase with the implementation of isolation and quarantine measures