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Civil Society Raise Gender & Equity Concerns on COVID-19

24 March 2021, Manila, the Philippines -  UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund of the Philippines, along with partners CARE, Oxfam Pilipinas, PLAN International, UNHCR, UN Women, UNICEF and eighteen other partners in Civil Society, and the Commission on Human Rights, launched the Silayan Report: A Gender & Inclusion Assessment of the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

UNFPA and partners conducted the qualitative study at the height of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) period, with nearly 1,000 remote interviews with respondents from the most marginalized communities:  indigent elders, indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons, rural and urban poor, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, 4P beneficiaries, overseas migrant workers and local community health workers.

Results from the interviews show that the circumstances of women respondents were worse off than before the pandemic:

  • higher domestic care work where the median time spent on chores among the respondents increased from 3 - 4 hours to 4 - 5 hours per day; 
  • 35% mentioned that COVID-19 interventions had a negative impact on their livelihood/employment; and
  • 49% of women respondents mentioned that the received government assistance was not adequate to meet their daily needs.

Among women respondents, internally displaced women in evacuation centers, women with disabilities, and the urban poor usually had worse experiences during the pandemic. They suffered from worsening mental health issues, some reporting suicidal ideation, the pressure to engage in prostitution, and initiating the first-ever mendicancy.

One female respondent, who is living with a disability, said, “Iniisip ko na lang na magkasakit na lang ako para mawala na itong problema ko, kasi nahihirapan na talaga ako.” (I sometimes think that it’s better to get sick (with COVID-19) so I won't have any more problems -- because I can't take it anymore.) Among the respondents in the study, women with disabilities are 2.5 times more likely to report that they experience anxiety or depression during the pandemic than women without disabilities.

Gender issues such as decreased access to Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR) services and escalating incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) were specific concerns among respondents. The survey revealed that the majority of respondents report that they are willing to report or intervene during a GBV incident. By gender, the LGBT respondents are more likely to act, and intervene if they hear or witness gender-based violence. By sector, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, LGBT, and seniors are more likely to act or intervene while urban poor, active OFWs, and persons at risk of statelessness (PARS) are least likely to act or intervene.

The bright spots among respondents’ stories of their pandemic experiences focused on their stronger family ties, greater discipline with health protocols, and new entrepreneurial skills that a number of respondents discovered - from urban gardening to starting online businesses.

Recommendations from the study’s authors address (1) the need for women to be among designers and decision-makers of the COVID-19 response, (2) the importance of centering marginalized communities among the measures of the success, ensuring their well-being as a criterion for how effective the response is evaluated, and (3) that communications regarding life-saving information and services need to target communities that are offline as well.

These recommendations continue to be relevant as COVID-19 vaccination roll-out efforts are predicted to extend up to late next year and that equity issues will require attention and resources. UNFPA, USAID, Commission on Human Rights, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, Spark Foundation, and WHO will co-convene a Roundtable discussion as part of the Women’s Month Activities to discuss the gender equity issues that are emerging within vaccination roll-outs worldwide. Panelists will formulate practical recommendations that local responders can incorporate into their vaccination plans to be gender-responsive and equitable. The virtual Roundtable discussion is on the 25th of March, from 9 AM to 12 NN. Inquiries and registration requests can be sent to UNFPA  through Ms. Jocelyn Bellin at bellin@unfpa.org.

The full report may be accessed here.