The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives and realities of women across the globe, who have been disproportionately impacted by the health crisis. The mandatory isolation and social distancing policies have alarmingly aggravated domestic violence, as they trap women at home with their abusers, while women’s shelters and domestic violence hotlines are struggling to meet demand. As primary caregivers for the sick and elderly, women also face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. Additionally, women comprise the majority of health and social care workers and are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Finally, the outbreak has led to an increase in the unpaid domestic labor burden on women, including childcare as schools and nurseries have closed.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbated by armed conflict, ongoing violence, and humanitarian emergencies, where refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are at an extremely high risk. The pandemic has impacted peacebuilding efforts because of violations of human rights including suppression of freedom of speech and of the press, attacks on women human rights defenders, increased surveillance by the government and heavily militarized responses. The travel and mobility restrictions have severely inhibited the delivery of essential services and humanitarian aid to refugees and IDPs and other vulnerable groups. The situation is further aggravated by dwindling resources, which have also disrupted the work of many women’s rights organization and civil society groups who work to promote and protect women’s rights, and build inclusive and sustainable peace.
Nonetheless, women and youth peacebuilders continue their work in the face of COVID-19.While advocating for the implementation of peace accords or monitoring the implementation of ceasefire agreements, they make face masks and distribute them along with food packages and hygiene products, to the elderly, people with disabilities, refugees and IDPs. Women and youth are also at the forefront of tackling the “epidemic of misinformation” that has accompanied the outbreak of COVID-19, as recognized in the United Nations Secretary-General’s announcement of the United Nations Communications Response. Women peacebuilders translate accurate information about COVID-19 to local languages, organize media and social media campaigns to counter fake news and hate speech, and monitor impacts of the pandemic.
Despite their contributions, women and youth peacebuilders remain marginalized in the crisis and excluded in the decision-making on the response. This year we mark 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA) and 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women and Peace and Security. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges and discrimination that women still face in their work, and the gaps in the implementation of the two groundbreaking international instruments. Much more remains to be done to fulfill the promise of UNSCR 1325 and the BPFA – and it starts with ensuring gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive response to the COVID-19 crisis!
Such response must be based on evidence from grassroots women and civil society, and reliable, sex- and age-disaggregated data. However, while much attention has been given to the impact of COVID-19 on women, there is no systematized source of information about the gendered impacts of COVID-19, and its impacts on peace and security.
COVID-19 and WPS Database
To address this gap, GNWP is developing a COVID-19 and WPS database, which will document the impacts of COVID-19 on local communities affected by conflict as well as on women’s work on peacebuilding, conflict prevention and sustaining peace. GNWP is using its global network of over 100 organizations around the world to collect accurate and up-to-date information. The database will contribute to the objective of UN Communications Response Initiative objective to inform “responsive, responsible, evidence-based governance”. The database will also aim to encourage the development of gender-responsive and conflict-sensitive interventions on COVID-19. The COVID19- WPS database is a living document that will continuously be updated with information provided by local women and youth peacebuilders as well as secondary data.
GNWP has also developed a Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy and Appeal to guide its work during the pandemic and present critical recommendations to mitigate its impact without sacrificing peacebuilding efforts and human rights. In addition, GNWP will be regularly publishing country-specific profiles that contain information on the impacts of the pandemic on women and peace and security. This will help “flood the Internet with facts and science while countering the growing scourge of misinformation.”