May 2020


  1. The Pandemic Can't Be an Excuse to Elide Women's Reproductive Rights
  2. Domestic and gender violence amidst COVID-19
  3. Opinion: We cannot allow COVID-19 to reinforce the digital gender divide
  4. Gender Equity Starts in the Home

The Pandemic Can't Be an Excuse to Elide Women's Reproductive Rights


India's lockdown to flatten the COVID-19 curve has been followed by reports of increasing domestic violence, mirroring the global trend, and which UN Women has called a 'shadow pandemic'.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most countries have diverted their often inadequate public health infrastructure to combating the novel coronavirus. However, beneath the surface, a global human rights crisis looms large in the form of an unprecedented threat to reproductive rights. The UN Population Fund has warned that the pandemic has “severely disrupted access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services”; Human Rights Watch has flagged the impact that the ongoing crisis could have on abortion access and maternal care. To mitigate this threat, WHO has urged governments to treat abortion as an essential healthcare service.

In countries with no legal impediments to abortion, the threat manifests in the form of shortage of contraceptives and medicines, strained medical facilities and dwindling personal incomes. In countries like the US, where abortion is a contested issue, several states have attempted on the anti-choice side of the abortion debate to restrict abortion access in the shadow of the pandemic by declaring it a non-essential medical procedure.

The Guttmacher Institute recently estimated that even a “10% proportional decline in use of contraceptive methods in low-and middle-income countries due to reduced access would result in an additional 49 million women with unmet need for modern contraceptives and an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies over the course of a year”. Experience with previous epidemics, such as those of the MERS-CoV, SARS and Ebola viruses, provide enough evidence of the negative outcomes for sexual and reproductive health during such crises, and ought to serve as a warning for governments.

In India, the nationwide lockdown to flatten the COVID-19 curve has been followed by reports of increasing domestic violence, mirroring the global trend, and which UN Women has called a “shadow pandemic”. This places women at an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies with fewer means to assert their bodily autonomy. There is a pre-existing issue with contraception access, especially in rural areas, which could become aggravated as public health workers responsible for distributing contraceptives are engaged with COVID-19 issues. Further, disruptions in pharmaceutical supply chains are likely to impact the availability of contraceptive methods and medical abortion drugs.

A public health crisis of this scale renders invisible the rights of those already at the margins. Reports have begun to emerge of women struggling to access abortion services during the lockdown even though the health ministry has classified abortion as an essential service. Even otherwise, India has a poor record in sexual and reproductive health services.

In 2017, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s performance audit report on reproductive and child health under the National Rural Health Mission flagged several issues with physical infrastructure, equipment and medicines, human resources, and provision of safe abortion services. Despite the relatively liberal medical termination of pregnancy laws, women face barriers in abortion access. The recent amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 were meant to remedy some longstanding lacunae in the law, but the pandemic threatens to undo all progress on this front.

Abortion and maternal care are time-sensitive interventions. Recognising this, a PIL was filed in the Delhi High Court for directions to the Centre to ensure access to medical services for pregnant women. As a relief measure, the high court directed the Delhi government to ensure a helpline service is made available for pregnant women and is publicised through newspapers and the social media.

Even after the lockdown lifts, normalcy may not immediately return, with physical distancing norms, movement restrictions, increased burden on public health systems, and supply chain issues expected to continue. Hence, ensuring sexual and reproductive health must be an integral part of the government’s immediate response strategy. Relegating it as a problem for another day could have cascading effects not only on reproductive health but also on female well-being and empowerment. It could cause immeasurable damage to the progress that India has made in meeting the sustainable development goal of gender equality. Reproductive rights are inalienable and have legitimate demands on public resources even during, and especially during a crisis.

Some potential interventions

* Drawing from the helpline intervention model set up by the National Commission for Women for domestic violence cases, and as directed by the Delhi High Court for pregnant women, nationwide helpline services to ensure abortion access must be extended.

* Adequate supply of contraceptives and medical abortion drugs should be ensured. Interestingly, family planning kits have been home delivered in UP’s Ballia district amidst concerns of a population boom. State governments could consider the possibility of adding family planning kits to the distribution of other essential ration supplies.

* To tide over the acute shortage of obstetricians and gynaecologists, nurses and AYUSH doctors may, as an interim measure, be used to expand the provider base in first trimester medical abortion.

* Currently, the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research don’t mention reproductive health services. Taking a cue from other countries, the use of telemedicine can be explored to improve access to medical abortion services. France has extended the time limit for at home medical abortion to nine weeks using medicines which can be prescribed over phone or by video consultation by doctors or midwives. Even UK and Germany have attempted to use telemedicine to address the abortion needs of women.

The government must widely publicise the fact that abortion services are essential health services, so the women who need them are not turned away from health facilities.

From a long-term strategy perspective, capacity-building to ensure uninterrupted delivery of sexual and reproductive health services must be built into the epidemics and disaster management policies. There are several important lessons for policy makers to learn from the pandemic, one being that gender concerns tend to become unseen at such times, but neglecting them can pose catastrophic consequences for millions of vulnerable women.


Rupavardhini B.R. is a civil servant and Vrinda Agarwal is a lawyer and legal journalist. The views expressed here are the authors’ own.


By : Rupavardhini B.R. and Vrinda Agarwal

Date : May 18, 2020

Source : The Wire

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Domestic and gender violence amidst COVID-19


COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in extraordinary ways; nothing has killed humans more than infectious diseases. The last pandemic that struck the world was the Spanish Flu (1918) infecting approximately a third of the world’s population (almost 500 million people).

To date, COVID-19 has infected over 4 million people globally and over 40,000 people in Pakistan. Understandably, Pakistan has limited experience in dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude in its 72-year history.

Magnitude of the problem: This crisis has deepened the economic and gender-based inequalities, making millions of women and children vulnerable and at a heightened risk of violence around the world. Many countries have reported a significant surge in domestic violence during lockdown. Thus, the measures being taken to slow the spread of the disease such as social distancing and the national lockdowns are likely creating conducive environments for yet another global public health emergency: the escalating rates of domestic and gender-based violence incidents.

Increase in violence against women has often been reported in crisis situations, as we learnt from the Ebola outbreak in 2018. However, amidst COVID-19, stay-at-home orders are proving more dangerous for women and girls who are now being trapped with their abusers, isolated from people and resources that can support them during the pandemic. Unfortunately, in these cases, home is not a safe place to be. Although both men and women may be victims of domestic violence, women are often at greater risk whilst men are often the perpetrators. Domestic and gender-based violence is a top threat to women’s empowerment and agency (even before the COVID-19 emergency), affecting approximately 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 years worldwide. In Pakistan, approximately, every one-in-four women has experienced some form of abuse ranging from emotional, physical, or sexual violence. This adds to roughly 8 million women facing some form of violence every year in the country. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in almost one-third of these cases, the perpetrator is an intimate partner or someone known. In Pakistan, the number of domestic violence cases are often under-reported due to gender stereotypes that give more power to men of the house, and associate feelings of guilt and shame with women breaking the norms. Women fear being blamed and stigmatised and as a consequence, are held responsible for their own fates. In a society where divorce and separation are considered a social taboo and shameful, women are threatened to remain silent using divorce as an exploitative weapon.

Gender Inequalities: Patriarchy and gender norms that confine women to a lower status compared to men are deep-rooted in Pakistan’s social fabric. These norms create imbalance of power in the society which puts women at greater risk of exploitation and control. Women with low education and low-income status are at increased risk of violence. Early marriages are also associated with greater risk of domestic violence especially in rural areas. These women often have low social status and lack of awareness about their legal rights which makes them particularly vulnerable.

Root-cause of gender related inequalities lies in the ways men and women’s roles are prescribed in the society. Gender roles circumscribe women to their homes and relegate them to the realm of domestic chores and household work. This includes household tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning as well as taking care of children, sick family members, and the elderly. While these tasks consume most of their time, these chores go often unrecognised and unacknowledged. Rarely are they ever monetised as they account for what is expected of a woman’s role at home as men are considered breadwinners for their families.

Due to work-at-home orders and school closures, women are more likely to give up their jobs or choose part-time work to take care of the children or the elderly, so that the men can continue to work. This situation is going to further put women under financial control of their spouse.

Furthermore, loss of jobs, reduced work patterns and work-from-home scenarios has likely resulted in loss of power for some people, which may be causing increase in abusive and violent behaviours at home. According to a Harvard University expert, Judith Lewis Herman, the coercive methods adopted by domestic abusers to control their partners “bear an uncanny resemblance” to those that kidnappers use to control their hostages. Control behaviour is not always in the form of physical violence. Other common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family, and employment; constant surveillance; financial control; strict, detailed rules for behaviour; and restrictions on access to such necessities as food, clothing, and sanitary facilities. Social distancing and social isolation strategies are vital to combat COVID-19, but they are at the same time giving more power to the abusers and perpetrators of gender-based violence.

There may be fear among women to reach out for help as they are being constantly monitored at home. Fear to reach out to health services or friends may also be due to anxiety of contracting the virus. As most of the legal services have also shifted to remote work, it is likely going to cause delays in processing of cases and seeking help. Amidst COVID-19, finding an avenue for escape or a new home is extremely difficult, which may be forcing many victims to stay with their abusers without reporting.

Applying a Gender Lens in Policy: COVID-19 pandemic is exposing gender gaps in society as well as in policymaking. The lack of prioritisation of gender-based violence issues is alarming. The funding allocation is minimal and there seems to be a lack of adequate services for survivors. With an already strained health system the needs of half the population are not being met. These issues will have long term economic and social repercussions and require urgent intervention and prioritisation by the government. Let us not make our policies gender blind.

Possible Solutions: We propose adopting a gender-responsive strategy to combat COVID-19 that includes voices of women, at all levels of society, in decision-making processes and response initiatives. This would ensure that the vital services that are critical to the needs of women are made available and that they continue to receive essential services including health care amidst this crisis. Protection of women and girls should be made top priority and critical element of the response to combat COVID-19. To make the gender gaps visible, UN Women has recommended the use of sex-disaggregated data, including data that can capture the differences in infection rates, economic impacts, burden of care, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual violence.

We applaud the Government of Pakistan’s initiatives such as the ‘Women Safety’ smart app that uses mobile technology to link women to essential support services. The Ministry of Human Rights has also taken an initiative to provide a helpline1099 and a WhatsApp number, 03339085709 to assist women and children report incidents of domestic violence or abuse during the pandemic.

However, in a country where only 20 per cent of the women have access to smart phones according to The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, interventions need to be adopted that can access women at all levels of the society. Such initiatives can include deploying mental health and legal services to vulnerable women via female community health workers. DoctHERs, one of Pakistan’s leading telemedicine organisations, has leveraged technology to mobilise the female community health worker in rural areas in Pakistan to provide access to health care. Providing mental health support to vulnerable groups in rural areas during the pandemic and beyond is an initiative which they will be providing in due course. Public awareness programs and campaigns that can sensitise public on gender issues amidst this pandemic and interventions that engage men as well as religious leaders in the conversation may also prove beneficiary.

COVID-19 is testing humanity in several ways. We have an opportunity to do this right. Let us not turn our eyes away from this invisible catastrophe in the shape of domestic violence that is being faced by women all over the country.


Nadia Bukhari is Global Lead, Gender Equity, International Pharmaceutical Federation & Mehr Manzoor is Fulbright Scholar with a research interest in gender equality, Tulane University, USA


By : Nadia Bukhari

Date : May 18, 2020

Source : International The News

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Opinion: We cannot allow COVID-19 to reinforce the digital gender divide


Phone connectivity and internet access should be fundamental rights for all — but today, despite progress, they remain privileges.

Girls, women, and marginalized groups are least likely to have access to technology. This was already a dire disadvantage, and now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has moved so many aspects of daily life online, this lack of connectivity has become even more alarming.

The internet has evolved from being a luxury asset to a key utility and public good, yet 3.6 billion people remain offline. Digital disparities reflect the inequality and discrimination that exist in wider society, with access lowest for the least privileged.

In low- and middle-income countries, 433 million women are unconnected and 165 million fewer women own a mobile phone compared with men. Boys are 1.5 times more likely to own a phone than girls in many countries, and among those who do own phones, boys are more likely than girls to own smartphones. The global internet user gap is 17%, and the digital gender gap exists in all regions of the world — and continues to grow. No society is immune.

We know from Ebola and other epidemics of the past that health crises magnify existing inequalities such as these.

Online commerce and mobile money is now a growing phenomenon, with over 1 billion registered accounts and close to $2 billion in daily transactions. Digital products are reaching the screens of increasing numbers of low-income users, including young people. Yet 1.7 billion people, more than half of whom are women, remain financially excluded from the digital economy. This can mean that essential cash transfer programs do not reach women in times of crisis.

Lockdown restrictions have left millions of girls, women, and people of all genders vulnerable to a growing shadow pandemic of violence — including cyberviolence and exploitative grooming of children — and with limited access to help. For these people, technology can be a lifesaving line of defense, whether via instant messaging services with a geolocation function, free calls to domestic abuse hotlines, or discreet apps that provide disguised support and information to survivors in case of surveillance by abusers.

But for those without access to a phone, these services might as well not exist. We must ensure that solutions do not only focus on high-end tech, further marginalizing girls and women without those resources. A two-pronged approach is needed: to assure full connectivity for everyone and to cater to those who are not online.

Internet access should be a human right, and we must be radical and ambitious in our thinking, striving for universal connectivity. Since most people access the internet through mobile devices — in low-income countries, especially — mobile network operators and internet service providers play a central role in enabling access.

Governments and civil society can demand free or cheap access to the internet for those who cannot afford it, whether in the form of lower data-bundle costs, the waiving of caps and additional fees on data usage, or zero-rating important websites, such as those with key educational content. Service providers, too, need governments to provide a supportive regulatory environment to help maintain connectivity as demand surges.

And assuring connectivity is only the first of many steps. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind, we need digital literacy that does not discriminate. Giving girls and women access to digital resources, as well as the knowledge, training, and confidence to design and use them, will ensure that they are not further marginalized in an increasingly digital world.

COVID-19 has been the most disruptive global force in a generation. And where there is disruption, there is the potential to rebuild, reimagine, and create a radically better world.

We stand at a crossroads: We can allow the coronavirus crisis to reinforce the worst impacts of the digital gender divide; or we can use the crisis to accelerate change, expand horizons, and get millions of girls and women online. The time to act is now.


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the United Nations undersecretary-general and executive director of UN Women since August 2013. Mlambo-Ngcuka has worked in government, private sector, and civil society and was actively involved in the struggle to end apartheid in her home country of South Africa. Starting in 2005, she served as deputy president of South Africa, overseeing programs to combat poverty and bring the advantages of a growing economy to the poor, with a particular focus on women.

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen has been CEO of child rights organization Plan International since September 2015. Before joining Plan International, Ms. Albrectsen served as the U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director for management at the United Nations Population Fund. Previously, she was ambassador and undersecretary for management at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


By : Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka & Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen 

Date : May 4, 2020

Source : Devex

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Gender Equity Starts in the Home


Jack Koban, a geologist and engineering project manager, is working from home during the pandemic shutdown while his wife, Ashley Saucier, works long hours as a pediatric emergency medicine physician. In our recent call with Jack, he reflected, “I don’t remember the last time I’ve cooked three meals a day and done the dishes for three straight weeks. It’s been nice being home, having more family time, and being more involved with the kids. We’ve definitely achieved a new work-life balance.”

Not everyone is seeing a silver lining in the shutdown, though. Families are struggling with unemployment, keeping small businesses afloat, and having to work to survive in the absence of paid sick leave. What’s more, many individuals are now discovering what it’s like to spend so much of their time managing work, childcare, and a household.

For most women, this last challenge is nothing new. Despite the fact that women outnumber men in the paid workforce, women still do more of the domestic work and childcare — almost twice as much as their male partners. The pandemic has closed many schools and daycare centers, creating childcare scarcity and exacerbating the stresses and strains of caregiving, home-schooling, and domestic duties, especially for dual-earner mothers who were already doing more unpaid work. Even with expanded use of telework and flexible work arrangements by many businesses, working from home isn’t necessarily easier when parents are juggling job responsibilities, full-time childcare, and supervision of children’s education.

Because 44% of all U.S. households with children are comprised of married dual-earner full-time working couples, and because 1.57 billion children are currently out of school globally and most non-critical workers are now teleworking from home, a seismic shift in the traditional division of household responsibilities is likely. It is not a stretch to expect that men are doing more housework and childcare during the pandemic — an enlightening experience for many.

Many men teleworking from home for the first time are getting a front row seat to the daily demands of running a home and caring for kids, as well as a crash course in learning to “balance” work and family. Although many men have experienced traditional role reversals for short stints, most have never worked from home for an extended period while leaning in as primary caregiver for children. Nowhere is this more evident than among men who are partnered with women who are essential healthcare professionals, currently required to work even longer hours outside the home. Because the healthcare industry is female-dominated (25 of 30 occupations are majority women), many of these families include a husband who is taking on primary caregiver and household responsibilities during the pandemic.

The presence of more men sharing more fully in domestic duties for an extended period of time has the potential to create a sea change in gendered norms — at home and at work. Men teleworking during the pandemic are more likely to appreciate women’s work-family experiences, understand the value of flexible work arrangements, appreciate the benefits of relationships with work colleagues, and role model more equitable work-family gender roles for their children.

In interviews we conducted for our forthcoming book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, women told us that gender equality at work had to start with men becoming equal partners at home. Real allyship and gender partnership demands that men do their fair share of household chores, childcare, transportation for children’s activities, the emotional labor of planning and tracking activities, and supporting their partner’s career. When men genuinely enact equal partnership at home, it accelerates gender equality at work in three ways.

First, women with equal partners at home are more successful at work. When people are less concerned with the impact of their job on family responsibilities and able to focus and commit more fully to their work, it’s no surprise that they’re more productive and able to take advantage of growth and advancement opportunities.

Second, fathers who are equal domestic partners role model equity for their children, shaping expectations of our future workforce. Daughters with dads who do their fair share are more likely to pursue their career aspirations, often in less stereotypical occupations, with more self-esteem and self-autonomy. Sons who see their father role model equal partnership in household duties have a more egalitarian perspective of women’s and men’s roles at home and work.

Finally, men who equally share unpaid work at home aren’t afraid to ask for and talk about why they need flexibility in their work schedule. When women alone request and use flexible work arrangements, paid sick leave, and parental leave, the perception that these programs exist solely for women creates a stigma that deters men from using them. For example, although men are more likely to be in jobs that allow telework, women still telework more than men. But when men lean in to truly equal partnership at home, they tend to use flexible work policies, normalizing it for everyone.

This pandemic has created a golden opportunity for men-as-allies to purposefully leverage their newfound domestic partnership chops. Men can start with considering how to intentionally lean in to being a better ally to their partner at home. Here are some recommendations to jumpstart better male allyship at home today:

Do your fair share of chores and childcare. There is no time like the present to check in with your partner and ask for a domestic performance audit to assess how you’re doing. And when she tells you that you need to do more, don’t get defensive; figure out how to be better.

Take on the emotional labor of tracking, planning, and organizing family needs, activities, and special occasions. The mental lists that women are more likely to maintain for their family is another form of unpaid work — cognitive labor. Grocery lists, holidays, birthdays, children’s school requirements, children’s clothing, medicines, pets’ needs — the list is seemingly endless. Men need to do their fair share of this labor.

Be purposeful in prioritizing work and family responsibilities. To help you prioritize, use “ruthless compartmentalization” in setting boundaries between work and family and adhere to them. As you set goals for work, do the same at home. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for your family responsibilities the same way you do for work. This will help you self-monitor and ensure you’re being the dad and partner you intend to be.

Support your partner’s career without reservation. This may mean putting your own career on hold, reducing current work responsibilities, or changing your work hours so she can have the time she needs to not just do her work but explore opportunities for professional growth. We find some couples creatively striking a balance by designating paid work (telework) days and non-paid work (kids and chores) days for each parent. This establishes a clear and shared priority for childcare and household duties.

Deliberately role model allyship for your children. Depending on the age of your children, openly communicate family and career goals. Life is messy, so show your kids how to disagree, listen, and respect others’ perspectives. Be transparent with your children in how and why decisions are made through compromise and balance. When you lean in to doing your fair share of domestic work, let your kids see that this is important and meaningful, and not just another task. Your positive attitude toward childcare and household responsibilities will send an enduring message of commitment and allyship to your children and your partner.

Be authentic and transparent about your current work-family situation. This includes transparently managing your daily schedule and availability so that you can prioritize family responsibilities. Most people now realize that when you’re working from home with children, pets, and others in a shared space, it’s futile to try to create an image of peace and serenity. Accept and normalize it for yourself, your family, and your coworkers. Authenticity makes you more effective in all your roles.

Leverage your partnership at home to build connection and community at work. We’ve all learned that it’s not only okay to talk about family and domestic challenges right now, but it’s actually quite powerful and meaningful in building relationships, emotional connection, and a caring community. Share both your wins and setbacks in achieving work-life integration so that others feel comfortable sharing theirs as well.

The current crisis is presenting new experiences for everyone at home and work — especially men. The silver lining for men’s experiences may be the ability to engage in gender equality and partnership in a way that we have not seen before. The benefits of equal partnership at home may be the catalyst to finally create a workplace that is equal for women.



David G. Smith, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the United States Naval War College. He is the coauthor of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. His next book, coauthored with W. Brad Johnson, is Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, forthcoming in 2020.

W. Brad Johnson, PhD, is a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School at Johns Hopkins University. He is the coauthor of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, The Elements of Mentoring, and other books on mentorship. His next book, coauthored with David G. Smith, is Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, forthcoming in 2020.


By : David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

Date : May 4, 2020

Source : Harvard Business Review

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