Pacific Women Thematic Brief: Gender and COVID-19 in the Pacific

This Thematic Brief provides information and analysis about emerging gendered impacts and recommendations for response for COVID-19 in the Pacific. It has been developed by the Support Unit for Pacific Women, offering gender advisory support to more than 160 gender equality initiatives funded by the Australian Government and implemented by about 150 partners across 14 Pacific Island countries. Refer to the Pacific Women COVID-19 webpage for a full list of resources and partner stories.

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Emerging gendered impacts and recommendations for response 

Following is a summary of the Thematic Brief’s key messages:

  • Health pandemics have specific and severe impacts on the lives of women and girls. Since the COVID-19 outbreak first had reported cases, the gendered impacts began being documented in the Pacific and across the world.
  • Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by crises. Existing gender inequalities are exacerbated during a crisis, with the result that women and girls face even higher rates of violence, sexual abuse and control from their husbands, partners and families. Women are expected to undertake more unpaid domestic work, are less able to access essential health services and are more vulnerable to economic hardship.
  • Employing a gender lens highlights the differing impacts of COVID-19 on women, girls, men and boys, and other, marginalised groups in the community. Crises such as disease outbreaks heighten the vulnerabilities of different groups, accentuating inequalities and leading to the neglect of the needs and rights of the most marginalised. This includes women and girls living in poverty, migrants, people with disabilities, the elderly and people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). Recognising the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on marginalised groups is vital to ensure an effective health response which doesn’t further endanger and exclude already vulnerable groups.
  • Health pandemics such as COVID-19 are not gender-neutral and should not involve a gender-neutral response. Failing to take into consideration the specific impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls will result in a response which is less effective and does not meet the needs and requirements of half the population.
  • Experience from past outbreaks such as the Ebola and Zika outbreaks have demonstrated the vital importance of incorporating a gender lens in to planning, response and re-building to ensure health interventions and humanitarian response are effective and promote gender equality.  Recognising how COVID-19 affects women and men differently is fundamental to an effective response.  These gendered experiences must be considered across all short and long-term response areas including health services and health communications, law and justice, security and education.

For more details, refer to the Thematic Brief – Gender and COVID-19 in the Pacific.

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Recommendations

The following eight recommendations aim to ensure a gender-inclusive COVID-19 response:

  1. Women and girls are at increased risk of physical and sexual violence in their homes
  2. Burden of unpaid care work on women will increase
  3. Women are working at the centre of the crisis
  4. Access to sexual and reproductive health is disrupted and rights are compromised
  5. Impacts on women’s economic insecurity
  6. Reaching vulnerable groups
  7. Women as decision makers
  8. Women, WASH and shelter
  9. Risk of violence and exploitation due to securitisation
  10. Adolescent girls (aged 10–19) face specific challenges.

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