The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that the coronavirus pandemic could spell disaster for women's rights worldwide.
He says that school blockades and closures designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 can critically hamper progress made in family planning, in addition to causing an increase in child marriage and female genital mutilation.
"It is a catastrophic situation," UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem told Euronews.
"Given that women and girls were already at a disadvantage in relation to contraception, now that we have put the COVID pandemic on top of that, we are calculating that millions of women and girls around the world are at risk of violence.
"They are at risk for unwanted pregnancies, and unattended pregnancies without a midwife, in addition to things like child marriage, as the pandemic continues."
UNFPA, the UN agency focused on sexual and reproductive health, examines how blockages are getting in the way access to family planning, health services and prevention programs that make a big difference for women in low and middle income countries.
As many countries restrict the movement to combat the spread of COVID-19 – and the crisis alleviates families' social and economic stress – the United Nations has warned of a "horrible global increase in domestic violence. "
He says that the number of women and girls facing abuse has increased in almost all countries and that in the next six months alone more than 30 million women will experience violence as a result of COVID-19 containment measures.
"This during a block is very disturbing. You are trapped in a physical situation and, if you are dominated, you may not be able to get out of it. That is why UNFPA is emphasizing things like hotlines. We are not emphasizing interruption in services that women and girls need in times of crisis, "said Kanem.
Contraception out of stock
The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting family planning in several ways, says UNFPA. Several health facilities are limiting their services, while women refrain from visiting them because of movement restrictions or because they fear getting the virus.
Meanwhile, interruptions in the supply chain are limiting the availability of contraceptives. Clinics in more than a dozen of the world's poorest countries expect the stock to run out in the next six months.
In this context, UNFPA estimates that, every three months of blocking interruptions:
- Between 13 million and 51 million women who would otherwise use modern contraceptives will not be able to.
- This can result in at least 325,000 unwanted pregnancies in the best settings – and up to 15 million unwanted pregnancies if there are major interruptions for a year.
- There will be an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence – and up to 61 million if the blocking restrictions remain in place for an entire year.
Girls at risk of mutilation and child marriage
More broadly, UNFPA expects the fight against COVID-19 to postpone the launch of community programs by up to two years to prevent the marriage of children and female genital mutilation.
Now, it is estimated that:
- Two million women and girls will undergo female genital mutilation in the next decade, when these practices could have been prevented
- There will be an additional 13 million child marriages in the next decade that could also have been avoided
The economic consequences of the pandemic are also responsible for these projections. International Monetary Fund already warned that the world now faces its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"This economic slowdown is likely to have a major impact on the levels of poverty in low-income countries where child marriage is more prevalent. As poverty is the main factor in child marriage, these economic impacts are expected to increase child marriage rates. in vulnerable communities, "said UNFPA.
As a whole, it warns that the coronavirus pandemic "could critically undermine" the progress made towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 to end the unmet need for family planning, end gender-based violence, including FGM and child marriage, and end it all. preventable maternal deaths.
Working without US funding
The United States suspended funding for UNFPA in 2017, claiming it supported a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China. The agency has repeatedly refuted the claim, saying that all his work "promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free from coercion or discrimination".
The move came after the Trump administration reinstated a controversial policy, also known as "global gag rule"which prohibits organizations that receive US government funding from facilitating or providing information about abortion.
Asked how the funding cut affected UNFPA's work and what advice the agency would have for the World Health Organization, who is now in a similar position, Kanem welcomed WHO's "extraordinary work" in maintaining a "fractional world".
"At this moment, multilateralism has led the way in saying that we must stay together, swim together and not sink. So it is disturbing when funding is withdrawn. However, I believe that goodwill and our activities and actions on the ground are the that makes the case, "said Kanem.
In the case of UNFPA, the funding cut meant that the agency had to close some of its clinics.
"I just reviewed our program in Yemen – a humanitarian situation of great and tragic importance – where we had to close more than 100 clinics where we save maternal lives, where we give contraception to women who do not wish to become pregnant under a pandemic. Or any other circumstance," said Kanem.
"But I believe that people of goodwill are now seeing the difference it makes when women are served, when women lead, when the prospect of peace is on the table. Women have a lot to offer, and I hope that will happen. be persuasive to anyone who is in doubt that it will take less than all hands on deck. This is a time for all hands on deck for the world. "