Anti-gender movements have been on the rise in Europe and beyond, outright questioning gender equality, opposing sexual and reproductive rights of women, sexual minorities and young people’s access to information and education about their sexuality. The current Covid-19 response has provided these professionally organised groups with new opportunities to reinforce their agendas.
Belgium and 57 other countries call for the protection of SRHR and the promotion of a gender sensitive response to the Covid-19 pandemic
In a powerful joint statement, 58 countries, including Belgium expressed their concern about the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls’ human rights, the deepening of existing inequalities and the worsening discrimination of other marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities and people living in extreme poverty.
To raise awareness of the unmet need for family planning, 12 Belgian members of parliament of 9 different political parties revealed the size of their families to the Belgian public. They did so in a joint video message, in which they explained they were free to decide on the size of their family, while 214 million women in the Global South who want to avoid or postpone a pregnancy, cannot do so, because they lack access to contraceptives.
The crisis affects every country, every individual person, but we still need to guarantee a global approach. More than ever, this crisis demonstrates how our lives are interconnected. In other words, a solidary, joint response will be necessary.
Sensoa International works with other organisations, including umbrella organisation IPPF, Belgian health and development organisations to steer the policy of Belgium, other EU member states and partner countries. We inform policymakers and advocate to safeguard sexual and reproductive rights, also in times of Covid-19.
The weakness of healthcare structures in developing countries will now become painfully clear and be a major threat to the global spread of the virus. Together with its partners, Sensoa International is therefore focusing on the importance of strengthening health systems, ensuring the continuity of care, and the promotion of universal healthcare coverage, which should include sexual and reproductive health services and family planning.
Sensoa International advocates to keep up and increase the necessary financial support. Existing official development assistance (ODA) should not be diverted to tackle the current crisis, as this creates new problems. Instead, new funds should be set up to counter the spread of Covid-19 and to address the large-scale side effects of the approach in a spirit of solidarity.
Measures to deal with the pandemic should not result in restrictions of human rights, democracy and the critical role of civil society and media. Jointly with our civil society partners in Belgium and abroad, we are watching and alerting policy makers when human rights, and particularly sexual and reproductive rights are at risk.
Everyone's social life is affected by the corona epidemic. However, many women are forced to work from home now, often in combination with children at home. Even before the crisis, statistics showed that women generally do more unpaid domestic work and have more caring responsibilities than men, including caring for children, the sick and the elderly. With increasing pressure on hospitals and health services, women will inevitably have to meet even more of the growing unpaid care needs. This includes cleaning, preparing food or looking after seriously ill or disabled people.
Every country, both in the global south and north, will have a different answer to this. In general, women and girls will face significant restrictions in safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, in particular timely abortion care, post-abortion care and emergency anticonception. Such restrictions disproportionately affect persons belonging to marginalised groups, including women living in poverty, women with disabilities, women belonging to ethnocultural minorities (e.g. Roma women), migrants, stateless women, adolescents and women at risk of domestic and sexual violence.
Quarantine affects the access to contraceptives for women worldwide:
Contraceptives are threatening to become scarcer and scarcer. This is due to different factors. For example, large NGOs as well as contraceptive manufacturers warn that the supply chains of various contraceptive products are severely disrupted. China, the world's second-largest exporter of pharmaceuticals, has closed several drug production plants, which in turn has caused delays in Indian plants producing generic drugs, including anticonception.
The demand for long-term contraceptives (such as the coil or the implant) will increase. For example, after Trump took office as president of the US, the demand for coils increased as women feared that access to other contraception would become more difficult.
As governments around the world are severely restricting the mobility of their citizens, the use of contraceptives will also decline. Particularly women who depend on public transport to travel, or who are currently without income, may find it difficult to get anticonception prescriptions and buy anticonception. What's more, family planning clinics might be temporarily closed.
The reduced access to contraceptives comes on top of the already existing needs of women. 214 million women in the Global South who want to use contraceptives already had no access to it before the crisis. Their numbers are increasing.
All over the world, we see sudden and drastic restrictions on democratic freedoms. Our movements are monitored increasingly. Public meetings are prohibited; the state of emergency is announced; legislative debates are postponed and, in certain countries, the operation of parliaments is suspended or their oversight role is severely curtailed in favour of the executive branch. All over the world, governments are ramping up digital surveillance. In Europe for example, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán granted himself dictatorial powers to ignore laws indefinitely and to suspend elections and referendums. In Israel, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an emergency decree preventing the parliament from meeting, in what newspaper Haaretz called a 'corona-coup'. Experts are already pointing to the increasing pressure on the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls everywhere in the world.
UNAIDS broke it down:
The prevention of, and response to, sexual violence was tabled by the ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’, Belgium’s all-party parliamentary group on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Alexandra Vasseur, an independent consultant was in charge of a large multi-annual evaluation of the international response to sexual violence in the DRC. The evaluation shows a lack of progress, despite years of international interventions in the DRC. A more holistic approach of sexual violence is needed to make sustainable progress. Such approach is based on awareness raising, a strong sectoral engagement and an increased commitment to end impunity.