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We can hope that COVID offers a chance for women for the future.

03 May 2020

New research estimates violence against women has increased by 20% during 3-months of lockdown. Only 25% of the senior leadership positions in healthcare globally are held by women yet they make up 70% of healthcare workers. Yet this crisis can still offer an opportunity for change.

Lidy Kaswera (50) speaks out against sexual violence in her community in Bahaha village, Ituri province, East DR Congo. Lidy is a member of a protection committee in the village to support survivors of violence and seek justice. Rape has been used widely by armed groups, and happens with alarming frequency in the DR Congo. Photo : Garry Walsh / Trócaire

Researchers have estimated a 20% increase in violence against women during a 3-month lockdown. These figures were included in a report published this week by the UN in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in the US and Victoria University in Australia.

This is one of the many challenges faced by women through this COVID crisis but they are often silent and forgotten through this crisis. But could COVID be a new dawn in the search for equality?

Globally women are at the coal face of the COVID pandemic. They are overrepresented as healthcare workers, in care roles, as retail staff, market vendors and childcare. Despite their over representation in the coronavirus frontline response women are underrepresented in the decision-making and global planning processes of the response effort.

Women make up only 20% of the World Health Organisation Emergency Committee on COVID-19. Only 25% of the senior leadership positions in healthcare globally are held by women yet they make up 70% of healthcare workers.

In the countries where Trócaire works even within households women can be prevented from making autonomous decisions. For instance, some women need permission of a male family member to access outside health care and essential services. Many believe that the lockdown is a bigger threat to some women than COVID.

It would be nice to hope that this crisis can offer an opportunity for change. The lockdowns could offer an opportunity to alter household dynamics. The vital role of women in healthcare would be recognised and strengthened in order to ensure that medical responses in the future are sensitive to the different needs of women and girls.

Having women leaders in healthcare could ensure the implementation of targeted women’s economic empowerment projects to reduce the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. It can ensure containment measures including supporting women to recover and build resilience for future shocks.

Women raising awareness in their communities about COVID prevention in Sierra Leone. Kaddy Mansaray, Chair of the Funkia Market Women's Association is providing COVID prevention information at the market with a poster and megaphone. Photo : Jonathan Bundu / Trócaire

More women leaders could ensure that the funding of Gender Based Violence protection and response programmes are prioritised during an emergency crisis. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, one in three women and girls experienced gender violence in their lifetime. The UN have already reported a global upsurge in violence against women since the outbreak, with some countries reporting a tripling of cases.

Leaders decide where funds are spent and programmes are prioritised. Currently vulnerable women who are living in fear need advocates in powerful positions. What would the world look like if this was the case?

A recent article in The Guardian asked if women leaders were more successful at managing the COVID crisis. It stated ‘plenty of countries with male leaders have also done well. But few with female leaders have done badly’. What progress could we make against hunger and climate change if women were leading across all levels of society?

This pandemic has affected every country differently. Every recovery will happen at an individual pace with individual processes and approaches. Globally, now is the time to ensure meaningful participation of women and girls. To ensure women have equal representation in decision making processes at all levels of society. Trócaire has hope and faith in women and girls. You can join us in supporting them to achieve a better word for us all.

You can donate online or by phoning:
1850 408 408 (Republic of Ireland)
0800 912 1200 (Northern Ireland).

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