PESHAWAR: As COVID-19 continues to be the global health crisis, the risk of worsening of the already existing social and gender inequalities in Pakistan has increased manifold. The pandemic is likely to have adverse impact on the lives and livelihoods of women and vulnerable groups, says the Policy Paper “Gendered Impact and Implications of COVID-19 in Pakistan” jointly released by the Ministry of Human Rights, UN Women Pakistan and National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW).
The paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the specific vulnerabilities that women and girls face because of the coronavirus with a focus on six key thematic areas including education, health, labor force participation, time use and mobility, financial empowerment, and gender-based violence (GBV), and presents broad policy recommendations to mitigate immediate risks and prevent the exacerbation of existing gender gaps.
Underscoring the fear of exacerbation of gender inequalities in educational attainment due to closure of schools, the brief stresses reducing the impact on girls’ education through ‘tele-school initiatives’ and increased public and private partnerships for development and broader dissemination of learning content with the use of technology.
Policy brief also calls for continuity of basic, reproductive and pre and post-natal health services for women and awareness about prevention protocols. “Since women’s access to healthcare services is not easy, and they also likely to have increased risk of exposure to virus due to care responsibilities, the Covid-19 response must take the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women into consideration.”
The publication citing that most women in Pakistan are part of the informal low-wage labor market and thus suffer from low income security and a lack of access to safety nets and social protection during crisis, suggested certain measures including building women’s economic resilience, targeted cash and loan programs as well as access to financial services. Such efforts are already underway through the Ehsaas Programme and the PM COVID Relief Fund.
Considering strong evidence that suggests that emergency measures instituted to cope with epidemics increase the risk of domestic abuse, the brief recommends integration of GBV services into response efforts as essential services. Restriction on mobility warrant adapted solutions to GBV service provision i.e. a shift towards remote and technology-based support.
“Women’s vulnerability increases with a lockdown as they often have to live with abusers and may find it difficult to even call for help. Access to GBV services must not be interrupted during crisis. The Ministry of Human Rights has ensured that our helpline and women crisis shelters remain operational during the crisis, with specific protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus. We are also working towards ensuring that the police, health workers, and social workers are responding to the specific and critical needs of women during this time,” Says Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari.
Federal Secretary Human Rights, Rabiya Javeri Agha urges stakeholders to adopt a gender integrated approach to the Covid-19 response at multiple levels. “This policy brief and gender analysis should serve as an essential resource document to guide stakeholders to effectively address gender inequalities emerging in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan.”
It is important to including female leadership in policy making and response efforts. Representation from women commissions and women development departments should be ensured in decision-making bodies and gender parity should be promoted in recruitment of staff and volunteers for COVID-19 response teams.
Notably, the policy document reminds stakeholders of the dire need to generate sex disaggregated data and primary micro-level research required for effective policy making. The lack of disaggregated data hinders targeted and effective relief response in times of crisis and humanitarian emergency.