Unless gender is integrated into national and institutional efforts to combat COVID-19 in Palestine, the pandemic’s socio-economic impact would aggravate gender inequalities and women’s vulnerabilities, according to a new gender analysis by UN Women.
As of today, there are 547 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, according to World Health Organization (WHO). On March 5, an emergency state was announced and lockdown measures have followed across the Palestinian Territory. This comes at a time when Palestinian capacity for emergency response is significantly reduced by the Israeli occupation, intra-Palestinian strife and a dire economic situation.
To increase understanding of the gender-specific impact of COVID-19 and ensure that the needs and priorities of all Palestinians are fairly and effectively addressed in response plans, UN Women conducted a rapid gender analysis. Based on preliminary data collection, surveys and meetings that UN Women had with more than 30 women-led organizations and woman leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, the report warns that the pandemic is expected to disproportionately affect women, create and exacerbate pre-existing gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities and widen inequalities.
Women represent nearly 60 per cent of workers in the care sector in Palestine and 70 per cent of frontline health workers, making them more exposed to the virus. Yet, men enjoy much higher levels of political and community participation and engagement in the fight against COVID-19. For example, 52 per cent of men said that they volunteered in their community, compared to 24 per cent for women. This makes Palestinian women’s voices go mostly unheard on how to respond to the pandemic.
“We must not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic affects women, girls, men and boys differently, and this important report highlights the different needs arising from this emergency,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory OPT).
With unemployment already very high, and even more for women, the current lockdown measures can exacerbate economic insecurity. The study found that the lockdown and closures of schools has increased the burden of unpaid care work on women and girls. This is particularly stressful for women who were requested to work from home while also expected to take care of the children and housework.
According to a survey by the Ramallah-based Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD), whose findings informed the gender analysis, women are more concerned than men about the increasing household burdens (62 per cent and 46 per cent respectively). Sixty-eight per cent of women said that their household work has increased compared to 44 per cent for men. Moreover, when both are remotely working, men’s work at home is usually prioritized over women’s.
Indeed, the crisis is expected to gravely impact women’s livelihood, particularly those working in the informal sector with no work protection. According to the aforementioned survey, 76 per cent of women reported that their families lost their income, compared to 65 per cent among men. According to a UN Women flash survey of the crisis impact on women-owned businesses, 95 per cent of women owners of micro, small and medium enterprises said their work had already been impacted by COVID-19. Moreover, almost 25 per cent of females in the private sector work with no employment contract or pay protection.
Domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) against women has also worsened since lockdown measures were put in place. Women’s organizations are reporting increase in GBV incidence. The Palestinian Working Women Society alone reported more than 510 GBV calls in the span of less than two weeks. Similarly, SAWA, another women’s organization, has reported a 10 per cent increase in calls and three cases of suicide attempts.
At the same time, restrictions on movements and services prevent women and girls from accessing essential services, including health, protection, security and justice. Restrictions on movement also risk normalizing prevalent patriarchal conceptions that “women’s place is at home”. Moreover, women’s unequal access to information and connectivity is likely to make them more vulnerable to the negative impacts of confinement, said the study.
“The way we respond to COVID-19 will have consequences for women, men, boys and girls in Palestine,” said Maryse Guimond, UN Women Special Representative for the OPT. “The only way to effectively support them is to ensure that the response takes into account their gender, age and vulnerability.”
UN Women suggested that to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on all Palestinians and prevent it from further weakening women and worsening gender inequalities, the Palestinian Government, international partners and humanitarian actors should:
– Collect sex- and age-disaggregated data and analysis to inform and guide planning and response to the pandemic;
– Ensure that humanitarian actions are gender responsive and address the needs of women, girls, boys and men equally;
– Actively increase the representation and participation of women in decision making and response planning at all levels;
– Include vulnerable women and female-headed households as well as GBV survivors in economic mitigation plans, including in cash transfer programs and support small women-run businesses during crisis;
– Enhance protection and accountability for GBV and provide safe and adapted sheltering solutions for women survivors of GBV and alternative psycho-social support mechanisms during lockdown;
– Officially encourage and promote the role of men at home and in childcare as well as practices that show equitable and non-stereotypical roles for female and male caregivers;
– Confront COVID-19 stigma, particularly for women, through awareness campaigns and messaging on avoiding social rejection and encouraging embracing and supporting survivors.