On a recent visit to a tribal village in South India, I met children, the elderly and teachers, who told me about how their lives have been affected by Covid-19. The implementation of crucial, but often brutal, public health measures such as home care policies and the disruption of key services such as schools and health facilities have dramatically eroded social well-being, isolation, income and education level. They have also increased violence against many women and girls.
The stories I have heard reverberate in cities and towns around the world, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come.
Even before the pandemic, nearly one in three women experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, mostly from an intimate partner. Exposure to this violence has increased with the spread of Covid-19.
Throughout the pandemic, the reduction in social interactions and the removal of supportive mechanisms negatively impacted mental health and increased the economic insecurity and social isolation of men and women, boys and children. girls. These are all risk factors for spousal / domestic violence. In addition, many children have dropped out of school, which for young girls can lead to early marriage and pregnancy, and even sexual exploitation.
Some industry forecasts suggest that vaccine supply could exceed demand by mid-2022. Even if this happens, it doesn’t mean the end of the pandemic is in sight.
Since the emergence of Covid-19 in December 2019, most governments have operated in crisis mode, with a narrow, short-term goal to try to minimize the transmission of SARS-CoV-2; track down the virus and the people it makes sick; and, more recently, to vaccinate their populations against it. Multisectoral approaches that, for example, take into account the unique impact of emergency responses on vulnerable groups, such as women and girls, or the potential that these measures have to exacerbate national and global inequalities, do not are often simply not taken into account. The harsh reality is that the impact of violence against women and girls and growing inequalities could be much greater and lasting than just the immediate toll of Covid-19 infections.
According to United Nations data, only 52 countries have integrated measures to prevent violence against women in their response plans to Covid-19. In some countries, however, resources devoted to addressing violence against women have been diverted to manage Covid-19.
The International Science Council, along with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, have been engaged for a year in an exercise to understand future scenarios that could result from the pandemic. In my work for the WHO, I am part of a global panel supporting this effort to examine the impact of Covid-19 on the global community in five years, with a focus on these critical areas: health, social, national governance, the economy, global governance, the environment, science and technology.Our scenario planning reveals that too many negative social outcomes of the pandemic, such as mental health status, increased violence or discrimination, and policies targeting inequalities, are currently not being addressed by the community. global community. Governments and multilateral actors have failed to consider the long-term results and the broader consequences of the pandemic on individual and social well-being.
The most likely scenario predicts that within five years many societies will experience increased poverty and spikes in mental health problems. Higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression will have ripple effects on physical health. And vulnerable family conditions combined with precarious employment, social isolation and reduced access to support services are likely to exacerbate the violence that disproportionately affects women and girls.
More needs to be done to prevent a generation of girls and women from being harmed today and to improve their health, well-being and socio-economic outcomes in the future.
An optimistic scenario presents a plausible picture in which the shock of the pandemic compels the global community to consider a systems approach to planning and responding to the pandemic. This requires greater attention to gender equality. Governments should prioritize essential services – as well as quality data and research – to address violence against women and girls in response plans, supported by specific investments targeting women and girls. women and girls living in the most vulnerable situations. It is essential to invest in organizations led by women and defending women’s rights.
(The full Covid-19 scenario report will be released in January 2022.)
Addressing inequalities today will not only improve lives as the world emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, but will also provide vital lessons for future emergencies. No one has a crystal ball to predict what will happen, but the message of this pandemic is clear: more girls and women will be hurt if the long-term harms of violence are not factored into the responses. pandemic and if their well-being is not a priority today.
Soumya Swaminathan is the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization.