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The COVID-19 Outbreak and Gender: Regional Analysis and Recommendations from Asia and the Pacific (May 2020)

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In March 2020, emerging gender impacts and trends were highlighted in an Advocacy Brief developed by GiHA resulting in key recommendations. Good practices from across the Asia Pacific Region have seen these recommendations being put into action and six weeks on, due to the scale and rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, it was seen as crucial to continue to document evidence of gender impacts across Asia Pacific and to update analysis and recommendations.

Exacerbated burdens of unpaid care work on women and girls: Evidence from the Pacific shows that women have already indicated feeling unprepared for the additional role of home schooling which has the potential to increase tension and stress within the household, with regards to the balance between women and men’s roles. In the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh, women are more likely to experience increases in unpaid domestic and unpaid care work since the spread of COVID-19: for example, in Bangladesh, 55% of women reported increases in unpaid domestic work compared to 44% of men. The significant increase in unpaid care and domestic work for women may be a major contributing factor to the pandemic disproportionately affecting women’s mental and emotional health in Pakistan and the Philippines. At the same time, there are signs of hope for beginning redistribution of household chores, with more than half of women surveyed in all countries noting that their partners help more at home.

Meeting the needs of women healthcare workers: In Hubei province, China, more than 90% of the healthcare workers on the front line response to COVID-19 were women. In South-East Asia, 79% of nurses are women and 81% in Western Pacific. Women, being a greater proportion of front line workers are therefore disproportionately at risk of indirect impacts resulting from punishing schedules and burnout as well as direct risks of the virus. This is compounded by often inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and essential supplies. Emerging reports in the Philippines indicate women healthcare workers (who make up 75 percent of health workers) are experiencing increased discrimination during COVID-19 and are being refused access to basic services and transportation. The increase in unpaid care and domestic work for women also impacts women healthcare workers and may further compromise their ability to provide health care services, decreasing the health sector’s capacity to effectively respond to and prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Increased risks of gender-based violence (GBV): Evidence suggests an increase in GBV during COVID-19, in part, due to lockdowns and quarantine measures meaning women are confined with their abusers. The number of domestic violence cases reported to a police station in Jingzhou, a city in Hubei Province, tripled in February 2020, compared to the same period the previous year.9 Service providers in India, Indonesia, and Singapore also report staggering increases, with a Women’s Helpline in Singapore noting a 33% increase in February over calls received in the same month last year. Consultations with Rohingya women and adolescent girls in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps have shown an increase in household tensions and GBV since measures to prevent the spread of the virus have been implemented.