Posted on 4 May 2020

How COVID-19 measures affect women, girls, men and boys differently

Crisis expected to create and exacerbate gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities

Adapted from a text included in the Revised COVID-19 Response Plan published on 25 April 2020

Palestinians confirmed to have COVID-19 by age group and sex, as of 29 April 2020. Source: Palestinian Ministry of Health.According to Ministry of Health (MoH) records, as of 26 April 2020, there were 221 male Palestinians (64.6 per cent) and 121 female Palestinians (35.4 per cent) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (excluding East Jerusalem) with COVID-19. Seventeen per cent of those who tested positive were children – boys and girls under 18; 63 per cent between the ages of 18 and 50; and 20 per cent were older than 50 years of age. According to MoH in Gaza, as of 25 April 2020, out of a total of 1,971 people who are staying at quarantine facilities in Gaza, 57.2 per cent (1,123) are males and 42.8 per cent (848) are females.

Under the current COVID-19 crisis, gender inequalities are not only increasing, but roles of women, girls, men and boys are also shifting and creating new dynamics which are being shaped by a series of overlapping economic, social and political factors. Based on preliminary data collection and meetings that UN Women had with more than 30 women-led organizations and women’s leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is expected to create and exacerbate gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities.

As the collective lockdown affects women, girls, men and boys differently, the current measures may be – even if unintentionally - reinforcing patriarchal norms and traditional perceptions. As such, for those (namely women and girls) that already experience strict control over their movement, access to resources and general rights, the current lockdown may witness a surge in the normalization of concepts such as ‘keeping the women indoors for their protection’ at the household and community levels. The responsibility of maintaining the cleanliness of the household is also increasing burdens and negatively affecting the psycho-social status of women and girls as primary domestic caregivers. Palestinian women who are pregnant or new mothers are at increased risk of not being able to access proper healthcare, especially with the current lockdown measures and the severe reduction in medical referrals to hospitals in Jerusalem and Israel.

Public health material on COVID-19 set to be disseminated to raise awareness among people in Gaza. Photo by the World Health Organization

Additionally, infection of household members, especially children may cast negative blame against female caregivers generally which may result in stigma. Stigma is also likely to further influence the more vulnerable members of the community with higher risk of deteriorating health, this includes those who are immunocompromised, those with chronic illnesses, and the elderly as burdens in the community. This is likely to also influence their families, who by association, are also socially alienated and discriminated against in relation to access to community resources and services.

Currently, women represent nearly 60 per cent of workers in the care sector in Palestine. This raises the question of exposure and the necessary mitigation for all workers in this field. Both male and female frontline health workers are increasingly exposed to isolation and ill-treatment. 

The crisis is also expected to gravely affect the livelihood of women, particularly those active in the informal sector where there is no work protection or income compensation. In a flash survey conducted by UN Women, it was found that 95 per cent of Palestinian women owners of micro, small and medium enterprises report negative impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While e-learning has been implemented, there appears to be little consideration given to household members, primarily women, who are becoming the new learning support providers, but who are given few, if any, resources, support or guidance. This not only adds to their burden and affects men and women, but also risks negatively affecting students’ education.

Increase expected in domestic violence

As a result of the declaration of an emergency and the restriction on movement, an increase is expected in domestic violence, as more people are confined to their homes. Such confinement typically results in household tension and increased violence. At the same time, restrictions on movement and services already prevent women and girls from accessing essential services (including health, protection, security and justice). Relevant hotlines are experiencing increased physical violence complaints in addition to the psycho-social challenges and violence that was already present.

Currently, women’s participation in national and sub-national decision-making processes related to COVID-19, is limited, and so is that of women’s organizations. Similarly, women’s access to reliable information on COVID-19, which is particularly important for marginalized or vulnerable groups – including refugees, the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women – is lacking. Hence, strengthening a gender perspective to the COVID-19 response is essential to ensuring that humanitarian assistance effectively and equitably protects women, girls, men and boys and capitalizes on their respective capacities and benefits.