COVID-19 is a pandemic that affects people of any ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, geography and nationality. However, the pandemic affects people differently depending on their particular circumstances, which is particularly visible when comparing women and men. Because of gender norms and pre-existing inequalities, the COVID-19 pandemic risks having a disproportionate impact on women and girls all over the world and also in Cambodia. The unfolding economic and social impact that will follow could very much set back previous gains on gender equality.
Economic development: Compounded economic impacts are exacerbated for women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty. In Cambodia, many women are employed in the informal sector with few protections against dismissal or for paid sick leave and limited access to social protection. The closure of schools along with an increased demand on women’s unpaid care responsibilities put extra barriers to women’s ability to engage in paid work. Moreover, women’s and girls’ more limited access to internet further restricts their opportunities to telecommute or attend distance schooling. Another exposed group is the women among migrant workers who risk being trapped in their country of employment with little or no social security safety net, unable to send money back home, and even if they return in their country of origin also risk falling deeper into poverty.
Gender-based violence (GBV): Restricted movements such as quarantine, isolation and closed schools are well known to increase risk of child abuse and different forms of GBV, including domestic violence and GBV online. The situation worsens as GBV survivors, but also women and children at risk of abuse, are prevented from accessing health-, education- and justice security support services. In Cambodia where the figures on GBV are already high, women and girls may even face escalating risks of domestic violence due to heightened tensions in the household from food and economic insecurity. The pandemic also heightens the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, especially of those in precarious economic situations, or while accessing pandemic response services.
Health, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR): Firstly, women and girls' roles in their homes, communities and in the workforce place them at increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. This includes unpaid domestic work as women often take care of the elderly, the sick and children not going to school, as well as in the health workforce where the majority are women. Secondly, the pandemic risks diverting resources from sexual and reproductive health including maternal health, contraceptives and comprehensive abortion care leading to an increase in maternal mortality, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Democracy and human rights: Lockdowns and enactment of national emergency powers may compromise freedom of movement and speech as well as access to information and risk narrowing the space for civil society and women’s rights organizations. Cambodia’s newly adopted Law on State of Emergency could, if applied, restrict the activities of both female and male human rights defenders. Furthermore, women’s and girls’ access to information technology risk becoming further restricted, not only from measures controlling or reducing the function or content of different media, but also through increased control by family members.
Food security: The pandemic risks having negative effects on food systems, affecting women and girls disproportionally. Women constitute the majority in low paid food production including agriculture and food stores. Cambodia is heavily dependent on imported food commodities, but imports are currently being disrupted. Travel restrictions and quarantine risk affecting women more as they often constitute food traders. Households may even use negative coping mechanisms due to poverty and food insecurity which could put women and girls even further at risk such as for example sexual exploitation.
In light of the above risks, every COVID-19 response plan needs to address the gender impacts of the pandemic. This implies to not only include women and women’s organizations at the heart of the COVID-19 response but also to design socio-economic plans with an intentional focus on the lives and futures of women and girls. Putting women and girls at the center of activities will fundamentally drive better and more sustainable development outcomes for all and support a more rapid recovery. There is otherwise a risk that the COVID-19 pandemic will compound existing and deep-rooted gender inequalities.
WHY: The pandemic affects women and men differently because of gender norms and pre-existing inequalities. The unfolding economic and social impact that follows in the path of the COVID-19 pandemic could set back previous gains on gender equality. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic risk having a disproportionate impact on women and girls in particular from poor and conflict affected communities.
Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is a working method and a perspective that takes three Rs as its starting point and is based on a fourth R. The implication is that the Swedish Foreign Service, in all its parts, shall strive to strengthen all women’s and girls’ Rights, Representation and Resources, based on the Reality in which they live.
With a feminist government pursuing a feminist foreign policy, Sweden will: