How will COVID-19 affect women in developing countries? - EmbraceAbility
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How will COVID-19 affect women in developing countries?

How will COVID-19 affect women in developing countries?

As COVID-19 rips through the developing world, taking overburdened systems beyond breaking point, and causing economic and social devastation, health impacts have dominated the world news. However, the outbreak of this disease is not only a health crisis in the short term, but also a devastating social and economic crisis over the months and years to come. Massive economic losses will be incurred as Cambodia has less capacity to absorb the shock, and overcrowding, poor infrastructure and lack of resources to hamper public health efforts.

This week Oxfam has released this week ‘An economic Rescue Plan For All’ to tackle the Coronavirus crisis and rebuild a more equal world. ‘Dignity not destitution  new analysis shows the economic crisis caused by coronavirus could push over half a million people into poverty unless urgent action is taken.

Around 4.5 million people in Cambodia are hovering above the poverty line pegged at $1.90 meaning they are vulnerable to falling back into poverty when exposed to economic and other external shocks. Cambodia is currently experiencing a microeconomic downturn with the travel bans affecting tourism and the EU shutting its retail doors means there is no work for garment workers.

Job losses are sweeping through the country with thousands being told to go home, thus decreasing household income by over half or leaving families facing imminent destitution .  Women workers will be among the hardest hit, as they are more likely to be engaged in informal and precarious work. The UNDP has warned without a comprehensive package for developing nations countries such as Cambodia risk a massive reversal of gains made over the past two decades, and an entire generation lost, if not in lives then in rights, opportunities and dignity.

How will this affect women?

The COVID-19 outbreak will have an impact on gender roles within Cambodia. In a rapidly changing environment, COVID-19 will have a significant adverse impact on women. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which in turn will amplify the impacts of the pandemic.

Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex. As under-funded and under-resourced hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed. It is only a matter of time until Cambodia experiences this same plight.

EmbraceAbility is aware that as hospitals become overstretched additional care responsibilities are frequently offloaded onto women and girls, who usually bear responsibility for caring for ill family members and the elderly. No plans have been made for caregivers or preparing households with a person with a disability in Cambodia.

All children are at risk of becoming separated from their caregiver during public health crises, as their caregiver may die, be quarantined or become unavailable for other reasons . These risks may be magnified for children with disabilities as persons with disabilities often fall through the gap during response efforts. Care must be integrated into strategies for COVID-19 so no-one is left behind.

This will have a disproportionate effect on women as societal norms can expose women and girls to greater health risks, e.g. the expectation that women and girls assume responsibility for doing domestic chores and nursing sick family members. The 2010 cholera epidemic in Haiti and 2014-2016 EVD outbreak in West Africa demonstrate how this places a three-fold caregiver burden on women and girls: they are responsible for household-level disease prevention and response efforts; at greater risk of infection; and subject to emotional, physical and socioeconomic harm. Although men, the elderly, and persons with compromised immune systems may be at greatest risk of fatality from COVID-19,the greater caregiving role that women and girls are expected to perform may expose them to other consequences.

Experiences from the Ebola outbreak demonstrated that where women are primarily responsible for procuring and cooking food for the family, increasing food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 may place them at a heightened risk of GBV (Gender Based Violence).  Research from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa suggests that women and children were placed at greater risk of exploitation and sexual violence .

Building an inclusive rights based approach

It’s essential governments and the NGO sector work together to ensure that human rights are central to the response. EmbraceAbility’s strategic plan for preparedness and response must be grounded in strong gender analysis, taking into account gendered roles, responsibilities, and dynamics. This includes ensuring that containment and mitigation measures also address the burden of unpaid care work and heightened GBV risks, particularly those that affect women and girls.

For the initial phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in Cambodia, EmbraceAbility has created a gender inclusive ‘Prevention Pack’, thus providing hygiene and sanitary materials, nutritious food parcels, medical supplies for children with disabilities and providing psychosocial support via phone calls twice per week.

In the upcoming weeks EmbraceAbility will be exploring targeted economic strategies  programming to mitigate the impact of the outbreak pending its containment. Measures will aid families’ recoveries and build resilience for future shocks.


By Jodie Le Marrec