Press release: Already impoverished and impacted by insecurity and discrimination, Libyan women are likely to be hit hardest if COVID-19 takes hold in the war-torn country, UN Women warns

Date: Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tunis, April 14, 2020 - Conflict and gender-based discrimination have already taken a terrible toll on Libyan women and limited their economic, political and social opportunities. If the global pandemic establishes a foothold in the country, Libyan women are likely to be disproportionately affected by the impact.

Since the fall of the Gaddafi regime, Libya has endured civil conflict accompanied by human suffering, political instability and economic collapse. The new report by UN Women “The Economic and Social Impact of Conflict on Libyan Women” sheds light on the impact of war on women and girls, and their prospects for employment, economic recovery, political participation and empowerment. In light of the threats posed by Covid-19, UN Women conducted a flash survey with 290 women across Libya to capture the pandemic’s specific impact on women.

The conflict in Libya has pushed more women into the workforce and 44 per cent of the women in the study headed their households. Widespread insecurity and gender-based discrimination makes decent work hard to come by. Almost half of the women in the study were unemployed and actively seeking work. Strikingly, the study found that women are 12 times more likely to be unemployed than men in Libya. The majority of the women in the study said that finding work had become more difficult since 2011. Moreover, women earned nearly three times less than men and were predominantly employed in the public sector, mostly in education and health. The disproportionate representation of women in the health sector leaves them more exposed to infection. 

This is of particular concern when seen against the responses from the flash survey, where more than half of working women said that their work had already been affected by COVID-19, and 26 per cent believed that their livelihood would be affected if the lockdown measures were extended.

The report also found that conflict and gender-based discrimination has greatly limited women’s movement, negatively impacting their opportunities and access to essential services. Women in the study were four times more likely than men to never leave their homes alone; 70 per cent of women who participated in the study, including pregnant women, said they could not go to health facilities unless accompanied by a male family member.

The incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) is also likely to increase by COVID-19. Essential services such as reporting mechanisms and referrals for GBV survivors are already limited. Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, reports of violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries. Insecurity, health, and financial pressures create tensions which are aggravated by the confined living conditions of lockdown. According to the flash survey, 46 per cent of respondents feared domestic violence would increase during the lockdown.

“Even before Covid-19 became a real threat, Libyan women already faced great challenges as gender-based violence and insecurity have constrained their employment, livelihood and overall potential” said Begoña Lasagabaster, UN Women Representative in Libya. “To help Libya contain the spread of the virus and transition towards recovery, we need to put Libyan women at the center of our response plan.” 

UN Women in Libya has been working with its UN and national partners, including civil society, at the forefront of national and local efforts to contain the spread of the virus. UN Women joins the call of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire and is working with partners to ensure that gender perspective is an integral part of the COVID-19 response. These measures include the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data and clear communication of information about COVID-19 to vulnerable populations, including women, migrants and refugees.

To support Libya’s resilience and recovery at this critical time, UN Women calls on the Libyan authorities and their international partners to:

  • Reach a humanitarian truce and cease hostilities immediately to allow Libyans to form a united front against COVID-19;
  • Ensure that Libyan women have an equal voice in designing the country’s response to COVID-19 and be equitably included in recovery efforts;
  • Ensure that gender-sensitive economic recovery is prioritized and women are equitably represented in all future peacebuilding activities;
  • Develop recovery programmes that focus on supporting women’s self-employment and business start-ups while combating stereotypes about women’s roles to promote their engagement in the private sector and “non-traditional” fields;
  • Lift its reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and prohibit all forms of gender-based violence and ensure that GBV services are accessible during lockdown;
  • Ensure that future projects, operations and initiatives to stabilize Libya effectively mainstream gender equality and women’s empowerment so women are able to contribute to peace and security in Libya.

For further information, please contact:

Samer.abu-rass@unwomen.org

nourhan.elnagdy@unwomen.org

saskia.binet@unwomen.org