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COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: How to incorporate women and gender equality in the management of the crisis response

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Response to COVID-19: impacts and implications are different for women and men

• Women are essential in the fight against the outbreak – as first responders, health workers and professionals, community volunteers and care workers, as well as being disproportionately affected by the crisis.

• Women are at the forefront of response and bear higher physical and emotional costs, as well as an increased risk of infection in crisis response. It is essential to address the immediate needs of women in the front lines of the response and incorporate them into decision-making processes.

• It is important to ensure access to and reproductive and sexual health care and services. Data from previous outbreaks indicate that containment efforts often divert resources from regular health services, exacerbating ordinary lack of access to services, including pre and post-natal health care, as well as contraceptives2.

• Women are still the most affected by unpaid care work, especially in times of crisis. Due to the saturation of health systems and school closures, the tasks of care fall mainly to women, who generally have a greater share of responsibility to care for sick family members, as well as children and the elderly3.

• Employment and care services are affected for women workers in general and in particular for informal and domestic workers. The outbreak profoundly impacts women’s ability to maintain their livelihoods. Experience has shown that quarantines significantly reduce economic and subsistence activities and disproportionately affect employment-generating sectors that are predominately female, such as trade and tourism.

• The reduction in economic activity affects informal workers who, in these circumstances, lose their livelihood almost immediately, without any network or the possibility of replacing lost daily income, in general. It also affects domestic workers who face specific challenges: One, the overall challenges arising from the increased burden of care; two, the increase in unpaid childcare (of their children) during school closures; and three, the possibility of losing income when, for health reasons, they are asked to stop working as a contagion risk to the families for whom they work.

• Irregular migration of women and girls creates higher protection risks, such as gender-based violence and trafficking. These risks may be increased given internal and external travel restrictions and increase difficulties in accessing health and medical services due to a lack of documentation.

• The outbreak has led to an increase in stigma, xenophobia, and discrimination. Recent experiences in Asia reveal widespread examples of these expressions related to race, gender, and immigration status, which lead to greater inequalities, exacerbate stereotypes, as well as women’s hyper-sexualization. These factors can drive people away from the services they need and hinder their socio-economic integration in host communities.

In an emergency context, the risks of violence against women and girls, especially domestic violence, due to increased tensions in the home, which can also increase women’s isolation4.

• Survivors of violence may face additional obstacles to flee violent situations or to access protective orders or essential services that can save lives due to factors such as lockdown or quarantine.

• The economic impact of the pandemic can create additional barriers to leave a violent domestic situation and create higher risks of sexual exploitation5.

• Food Safety: Women and girls can be affected by the difficulties of accessing nutritious and safe food due to the closures of food services in schools and communities, the overall scarcity of food, and the restrictions of circulation. Coping mechanisms in these circumstances, such as survival sex, can result in sexual exploitation for commercial purposes.