COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown: Addressing impact on women, girls
UN Women and the Embassy of Sweden call on all parties involved in the COVID-19 response to apply gender and equity pers ...
By H.E. Per Lindgärde the Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda and Dr. Maxime Houinato the Uganda Country Representative UN Women
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis that risks exacerbating gender inequalities as well as violence against women. As in past pandemics, there are clear signs women continue to bear the brunt of emergent risks to public health, safety, and human rights.
For example, as lockdown policies are implemented, experience from many countries shows that many women are being trapped with abusive partners, isolated from their support networks, and may be unable to access essential services.
We are impressed by the early and resolute actions taken by the Government of Uganda to combat COVID-19. On 30th March 2020, the Government of Uganda announced a country-wide lockdown, including several restrictive measures. The lockdown has subsequently been extended until 5 May 2020. While the measures have served to curb the spread of the virus, it is important to recognize the concurrent upsurge of violence against women in both public and private spaces.
In Uganda, 46% of women have - before these measures were introduced - experienced physical violence and live in fear of their current or most recent partner. These figures are likely to increase during lockdown and confinement, as security, health, and income worries, heighten tensions in homes. Credible reports indicate that there has been a surge in sexual gender-based violence, including five fatalities since the lock-down was introduced.
Another matter of concern is the reports of security personnel beating up women in their homes and on their way to health facilities, which have led to grievous bodily and psychological harm. Several women's rights organizations and child rights advocates, including the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers, have recorded a rise in incidents of domestic violence and violence against children as a result of the lockdown.
We appreciate the government's unambiguous efforts to address these violations, as the police, heavily engaged in the enforcement of the lockdown measures as they are, struggle to adequately respond to all cases, arrest perpetrators and help survivors of domestic and sexual violence access medical treatment and legal aid services.
The government of Uganda has rolled out COVID-19 preparedness, risk reduction, and response measures that include the distribution of food to those that are most vulnerable and provision of crucial transport services to people in dire need.
UN Women and the Embassy of Sweden call on all parties involved in the COVID-19 response to apply gender and equity perspective in the overall response planning and implementation, to ensure that the required social and economic assistance reaches the most vulnerable and marginalized, especially women and girls both in urban and rural settings.
In partnerships with the Government, private sector, and civil society organizations, we commit to continue supporting efforts to respond to this pandemic. We are working with the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, UN Agencies and other partners to implement a COVID response plan that innovatively integrates aspects related to gender, including measures towards ending violence against women and girls.
While we do this, we would like to encourage the Government of Uganda to continue paying attention to the special needs of women and girls and consider the following suggestions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Ensure that victims of gender-based violence get access to justice and look into the possibility of adding lawyers to the list of professional groups that are exempted from the ban of private vehicles.
Ensure continued access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, including modern contraceptives.
Foster women's leadership and participation in task forces in all sectors that form part of the risk reduction and response plans in order to ensure more inclusive decision making.
Make prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of the national response plan.
Expand services to address violence against women and girls and allocate increased resources to support shelters, psychosocial care, helplines, and online counselling, including for frontline health workers.
Strengthen mechanisms for Police and Justice actors to address incidents of violence against women and girls and ensure violence emerging in the context of COVID 19 is given the high priority it deserves.
Ensure that all relief distributions by the State across the country include female and child-headed households as they face exacerbated vulnerability. Put systems in place to prevent abuse, harassment, and exploitation of women and girls in the distribution of support.
Enhance protection for women who have opted to stay at their stalls in different markets and commercial centres, including the provision of protective gear and additional security to uphold their safety, wellbeing, and security from likely risks such as sexual violence, disease and robbery.
We remain committed, together with other development partners, to support the Government of Uganda in its efforts to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.