UN Chief seeks gender responsive strategies on Covid-19

A laboratory specialist gets ready with protective gears before visiting the ward for quarantined people who had close contacts with the first Kenyan patient of the Covid-19 at the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 15, 2020. UN boss wants nations to consider women when tackling the virus. PHOTO | AFP

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Secretary- General of the United Nations (UN) António Guterres has called for consideration of women needs in combating Covid-19.

Mr Guterres said health crises such as Covid-19 impact men and women differently, thus exacerbating gender inequality

"It is crucial that our response to the #coronavirus outbreak takes the needs of women into account," he wrote on his Twitter account on March 20. 


His appeal echoes UN Women's set of recommendations on placing women’s needs and leadership at the heart of effective response to Covid-19 released on March 19.

In outlining the eight recommendations, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka raises concerns arising from the outbreak of the disease.

 "Majority of health workers are women and that puts them at highest risk. Most of them are also parents and care givers to family members. They continue to carry the burden of care, which is already disproportionally high in normal times. This puts women under considerable stress," she is quoted in the entity's March 19, release listing the recommendations.


She further observes that "Majority of women work in the informal economy, where health insurance is likely to be non-existent or inadequate, and income is not secure. Because they are not well targeted for bail outs, they are financially on their own. This is not simply a health issue for many women; it goes to the heart of gender equality.”

The entity notes that women’s access to prenatal and post-natal healthcare and contraceptives dwindle when health services are overstretched.

It indicates that “evidence is also mounting that the economic impacts of Covid-19 will hit women harder, as more work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs."


That "Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are likely to compromise women’s ability to make a living and meet their families’ basic needs, as was seen in the Ebola crisis," it adds.

It recommends ensuring availability of sex-disaggregated data, that is, differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

It also pushes for the embedding of gender dimensions and gender experts within response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into response teams.

Other recommendations include supporting women on the front-lines of the response by for instance, improving access to women-friendly personal protective equipment and menstrual hygiene products for healthcare workers and caregivers.


It also seeks flexible working arrangements for women with a burden of care, ensuring equal voice for women in decision making in the response and long-term impact planning.

It calls for public health messages targeting women, including those most marginalised and developing mitigation strategies that specifically target the economic impact of the outbreak on women and build women’s resilience.

Finally, it seeks the protection of essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services and prioritising services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by Covid-19.