COVID-19 exacerbates vulnerabilities and heightens economic, social and health risks for women and girls
12 May 2020
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related restrictive measures exposes all groups of women to higher risks of losing incomes and savings, it significantly increases the burden of unpaid care work, exposes women and children to domestic violence and exacerbates vulnerabilities of those facing multiple forms of discrimination, reveals the new study Rapid Gender Assessment of the Situation and Needs of Women in the Context of COVID-19 in Ukraine developed by UN Women Ukraine.
The assessment was conducted between March 21 and April 12, 2020 and included an online survey with 3310 female respondents and 528 male respondents aged 18+ who live in all regions of Ukraine. The sample is not representative for the population of the oblasts by age and education level, but representation of respondents in key groups for comparative analysis (analytical approach to sample formation) achieved. The desk review of COVID-19-related legislation and sex-disaggregated state statistics at national, regional and local levels, as well as local practices in response to COVID-19 in Volyn, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Sumy, Kherson and Chernivtsi oblasts were conducted based on the open source information and phone interviews with representatives of the 12 amalgamated territorial communities of the above mentioned oblasts. For the purposes of UN Women programming, semi-structured phone interviews with 77 women from vulnerable groups of women from Volyn, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Sumy, Kherson and Chernivtsi oblasts were carried out.
The study demonstrates that women who, in general, have limited opportunities to make savings due to the existing gender pay gap and gender discrimination at labour market are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic and more likely than men will have to save on essential services if COVID-19 related restrictive measures continue. Overall, 81.8% of women think that they will have to save on food, 77.4% of women said there was a high likelihood of difficulties in paying rent and utilities, 76.8% expect challenges in keeping up with necessary expenses associated with buying food and other essentials. Men are less likely than women to say that they might save on food (72.3%), that it would be difficult to pay rent or utilities (65.5%) and to cover basic expenses (70.3%).
The survey also reveals that quarantine exacerbates the problem of gender stereotypes and patriarchal social norms on the women’s and men’s roles in the family, as the significant burden of unpaid domestic and care work during the quarantine rests on women. Women working from home have to balance paid work, household chores, and caring for children who stay at home due to quarantine provisions in educational institutions. In particular, 63.5% of female respondents noted that the amount of time they spend on cleaning has increased, 50.5% - on cooking, 53,3% – on providing emotional support to family members. There are also significant disparities between the answers of women and men. Thus, only 27.8% and 44.1% men reported an increase in time for cooking and cleaning respectively.
The lack of advanced forms of remote learning for schoolchildren during the quarantine causes an excessive continual burden on parents and, most of all, on mothers. 78.9% of female respondents who have school-age children said that during this period, the level of their engagement in educating their children increased dramatically. And the answers of men confirm this trend – only 32.3% of male respondents said that they mainly arranged children's education.
The situation is particularly acute for women from vulnerable groups, who face extra health and financial risks.
During the quarantine, women with disabilities face additional barriers in access to health and social services, basic medical and sanitary goods, as well as risks in case of need of medical assistance. “If a visually impaired person goes to the hospital, he or she is left unaccompanied in the quarantine situation. Our hospitals are not accessible. You cannot take the medication on your own; you have to believe the word that you get exactly the medication you need; you cannot go to the toilet without assistance. When you cannot talk, you can at least write. Sorry, but I feel like crying again”, emphasizes Oksana, a woman with a disability from Chernivtsi.
Roma women become particularly vulnerable in the context of the nationwide quarantine as they don’t have financial resources to buy food, personal protective equipment, and hygiene products; they don’t have adequate access to healthcare services, education, and available information on disease prevention in Roma language. “Yesterday I was making willow baskets, and today I will go to a nearby village to trade them in for potatoes, onions, carrots. Not to sell them, to trade them in. We live hard here in the camp, but I’d never thought the situation would be that challenging for us,” says Maria.
In Ukraine, women constitute 82.8%1 of healthcare workers. Female healthcare professionals and women frontline responders (social workers, workers at grocery stores and pharmacies, others) are exposed to high risk of infection and additional expenditures to buy personal protective gear at their own expense. Thus, only 13.9% of women who participated in the online survey and work in healthcare said they were adequately provided with personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, other); 59.7% - partially equipped and 26.4% - not equipped at all.
“I received two masks for the whole period of quarantine, a disposable medical robe (she laughs about the thing being multiple times used by now) and shoe covers. Hospital administration told us that if we needed additional gear, then we should buy it ourselves. They forgot to tell us, though, what money we should use to buy it. I have worked years as a nurse, and my salary is minimal. The good thing is that special transport brings us to work,” says Natalia, a nurse.
Restrictive COVID-19-related measures has created additional challenges for women engaged in healthcare, social and other service provision, as they cannot work remotely and have to arrange care for their children in the quarantine at preschool and school facilities. “I have a 6 years old child, I leave her home alone, nobody can help me and stay with her. I worry about her safety all the time,” says Tatiana, a social worker.
The other vulnerable groups who are at higher risks of finding themselves in extreme poverty, in food insecurity, trapped in closed spaces with their perpetrators, with limited or no access to basic services and resources, include women-military veterans; single mothers and caretakers; women living with HIV/AIDS; older women (65+); women-entrepreneurs; women caretakers of family members with disabilities, others.
The study identifies several positive examples of addressing the needs of vulnerable population in some oblasts; However, most of the decisions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Ukraine do not fully take into account international and national obligations of Ukraine on gender equality and human rights. This leads to disproportional effect of restriction measures to vulnerable women.
The study provides recommendations for the national, regional, and local authorities, as well as civil society and development partners, on the required measures to address needs of vulnerable women and girls, as well as ensure their equal rights and support recovery and resilience to crisis caused by global pandemic.