Press release: collecting data and informing policies to support women and girls in the Arab States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Date: Tuesday, June 23, 2020

From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, UN Women across the Arab States region has mobilized efforts to collect essential data in order to inform, advise and shape the response and recovery strategies in the region.

“Staying at home is creating a whole new reality. I must now care for all aspects of my children’s welfare. With the introduction of e-learning, I am the only one who is really following with the children to do their schoolwork. They are confined and stressed, and I must deal with that, but I am also stressed,” says Nour*, one of twelve women interviewed by UN Women for a study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the lives of women and girls in Palestine.

The study found that the lockdown and closures of schools has increased the burden of unpaid care work on women and girls. This is particularly stressful for women who were requested to work from home while also expected to take care of the children and housework. According to the study, 68 per cent of women said that their household work has increased compared to men (44 per cent). The same pattern applies to caring for children, where 52 per cent of women say that it increased, while 30 per cent of men say the same.

“As a result of the economic conditions, of losing jobs and with the current state of anxiety, there is deterioration in the economic situation of women, and this is leading to economic violence in the home and is resulting in higher rates of domestic violence. Especially right now we cannot separate between economic violence and social violence,” said Amal Hamad, Minister of Women’s Affairs of the State of Palestine.

“Data is crucial to inform effective decisions shaping the COVID-19 response and recovery. UN Women is proud to be the leading international partner of Arab governments and research institutions in the compilation of data on the impact of the pandemic on women and girls. Such data will enable us to build back a more gender-equal, inclusive and sustainable economy, and a more resilient society that leaves no one behind,” says Dr. Moez Doraid, UN Women Regional Director a.i. for the Arab States.

“Women are at the frontlines of containing the spread of the pandemic and highlighting their needs and leadership will strengthen the response to the crisis,” said Amani Aruri, a Palestinian feminist advocate, who is also a member of the UN Women-supported Gender Innovation Agora. “Unfortunately, the crisis is translating into an increased rate of violence against women in many forms: bullying, social stigmatizing, and gender stereotyping. We all must ensure the protection of women’s rights, this is everyone’s responsibility,” she added.

As lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus were instituted across the region, the incidence of domestic violence also increased.

According to a poll conducted by UN Women and government partners in Egypt, at least 19 per cent of women reported an increase in domestic violence in a period of 10 days in April, while a 54 per cent of women who responded to a joint rapid assessment by UN Women and development partners in Lebanon reported an increase in the incidence of harassment, violence or abuse against women and girls in their household or community.

In Tunisia, UN Women produced a policy brief which outlines challenges and recommendations on COVID-19 impact, with a focus on gender-based violence, access to justice, women and health, and women’s leadership and political participation. According to the brief, in the span of only one week last March, 40 women reported acts of violence compared to seven women reporting during the same period in 2019. Between 23 March and 23 April, hotlines received 1,425 calls related to gender-based violence.

As reported in a study on the impact of the COVID-19 on beneficiaries of UN Women in refugee camp and non-camp settings in Jordan, 62 per cent of women respondents indicated they feel at increased risk of physical or psychological violence as a result of increased tensions in the household and increased food insecurity, both of which have been exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic.

In the wake of the crisis, UN Women Morocco developed a mapping of the institutional services available for women who experience violence during this time. The list includes hotlines, counselling services and psychological support providers across the country.

Meanwhile, women living in countries in conflict across the region are at risk of facing additional threats. A flash survey conducted by UN Women Libya on the gendered impacts of the pandemic, suggests that the incidence of gender-based violence is also likely to increase during COVID-19. Essential services such as reporting mechanisms and referrals for survivors are already limited. According to the survey, 46 per cent of respondents feared domestic violence would increase during the lockdown.

In response to the crisis, an Action Brief prepared by UN Women in Yemen outlines a set of policy recommendations to address the specific needs and priorities of women and girls in conflict settings in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, including the uninterrupted provision of support and assistance to survivors of violence, engaging women leaders and organizations in in all planning and programming efforts during the COVID-19 response and the aftermath, and building the capacity of women to ensure their active participation in the national workforce and labour markets.

For its part, UN Women in Iraq issued a gender-responsive COVID-19 Guidance Note proposing a concrete set of recommendations for action by the government, civil society organizations and the international community. The note stresses the importance of collecting sex-disaggregated data, mainstreaming gender into social protection plans and emergency economic schemes while considering unpaid care undertaken by women and ensuring uninterrupted access to services for survivors of domestic violence.

In addition, a snapshot of the regional response on women’s economic empowerment shows how UN Women in the Arab States, and at country level, is working with governments, civil society organizations, young people, international development partners and other United Nations agencies to develop and support short and long-term solutions to mitigate economic losses and the adverse impact on women’s livelihoods during the pandemic in order to position them for economic recovery during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Read more on UN Women’s COVID-19 response here.

Media contact:

Diego De La Rosa

Regional Communications Specialist

Diego.delarosa (at) unwomen.org