Who will look out for women?

There was a very funny meme on Facebook that was supposed to be a record of the crimes and public offenses that had taken place since the “enhanced community quarantine” was put in place. “Number of thefts, 0. Number of homicides, 0. Number of public disturbances, 0.” But it ended with: “Number of away mag-asawa (fights between spouses): 3,850.”

Rigghhtt… Folks may be too busy ensuring their survival these days (needs to be verified, though), but 24/7 constant exposure to each other could very well grate on the nerves of both husband and wife.

Funny, yes, but there is a grain of truth in it. There are ways that COVID-19 impact our lives, especially the lives of women, if only we take time to think seriously about them. Fortunately, UN Women released a video on the ways women’s lives are affected by the pandemic, and not just in the health and health care sense. Here’s the accompanying text of the video, followed by my comments and observations.“Women act as leaders in their communities and in frontline services,” the video says, and follows that up with an important query: “What are some unique risks they must manage in the face of COVID-19?”

First, “women play a disproportionate role in disease response. Their essential roles as health professionals, community volunteers and more place them at an increased risk of infection.” Indeed, one could say that health care is a female-dominated profession, with our nursing, midwife, and health auxiliary forces overwhelmingly female. And so with community health workers, volunteers, and of course women at home — mothers, grandmothers, aunts, caregivers — who are seen as primary caregivers for their families. What special precautions are being taken to protect women from COVID-19 and other microbes? Are the elusive personal protective equipment or PPEs even designed with women users in mind?

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“Women will be hit harder by an economic fallout. Women work disproportionately in insecure labor. Lockdowns can prevent them from meeting their families’ basic needs.”

The informal sector, consisting mainly of market and street vendors, home-based workers, farm laborers, even sex workers, is overwhelmingly female. One could say that most daily wage earners are women, who must scramble each day to eke out a living to feed their families. Are women even counted as “workers” in official statistics? Who looks out for them and counts the value of their wages and labor? “During crises, gender-based violence increases. Domestic violence and sexual exploitation tend to increase when households are placed under strain.”

Even in so-called “normal times,” women and girls are at risk of violence mostly from the men in their lives—husbands, partners, fathers, even sons. Much of the violent episodes are attributed to the stress and sense of powerlessness that men feel, with men lashing out at the nearest and most convenient target: the women in their lives. In these days of uncertainty, it’s fair to expect that violence against women will be on the rise, especially at home. For too many women, home is not a refuge but a place of terror and tension. The uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 merely exacerbates the fear they live with every day.

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“When health services are overstretched, services for women and girls suffer. Essential resources may be diverted from pre- and post-natal health care, and sexual and reproductive health services.”

The whole sorry saga of Sen. Koko Pimentel’s reckless behavior accompanying his wife to Makati Med despite being a PUM, often overlooks another victim — his wife Kathryna. She was scheduled to give birth through a cesarean section but was told to wait until doctors ascertained that she was COVID-19-negative. How about ordinary women who cannot be accommodated because hospitals are full and busy with COVID-19 cases? And are there enough midwives to look after the women delivering at home?

Lastly, says UN Women: “Women must have an equal voice in the decision-making and response to crises. Let’s ensure a gender-conscious approach to COVID-19.” Will the all-male, all-military crew appointed to the COVID-19 task force have the time or inclination to look at the different gender-based needs engendered by the crisis? (Already, there is news of women being sexually harassed in police and military checkpoints.) Indeed, who will look out for the women in these days of dread?

rdavid@inquirer.com.ph

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