The Philippines has adopted an enhanced community quarantine similar to that of China’s Hubei province. This month, a nonprofit organization based in Hubei reported an alarming statistic: 90 percent of the cases of domestic violence were related to the COVID-19 pandemic. How can we prevent the same thing from happening here? The lockdown also gave rise to panic buying, leaving some women without access to sanitary products. We got to discuss the gender issues that emerge during outbreaks with Charisse “Chang” Jordan, national project officer of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’s (UN Women) Safe and Fair Programme and artist and women’s rights activist Nikki Luna.
Compromised under COVID-19
Women are at a higher risk than usual in the time of a pandemic. According to Chang Jordan, it’s because they are care work frontliners at work and at home. Women are often employed as nurses, caregivers, teachers and other pink-collar roles. In addition to being responsible for individuals outside their family, they often put their children and spouse first. For communities reliant on them for care, women are extra vulnerable to the virus’ stealthy transmission.
Jordan adds that under the lockdown, threats of violence and harassment against women (both in public and private spaces) are also a big concern. From checkpoints to their very own homes, they are exposed to potential harm. The lack of safe transportation is an added factor. Those who are in abusive relationships may be subjected to heightened instances of domestic abuse if unable to find an alternative to staying with their perpetrators during the quarantine.
Public health measures should consider the living conditions of the general public. Local government units need to look out for the safety of women and girls in and out of their homes. “Women should not fear unwanted and unprotected sex. Girls should not fear being touched inappropriately,” says Jordan.
Lack of access to sanitary products
Women have specific, gender-differentiated needs often neglected in crisis response. Not only have prices soared for medical supplies, businesses and individuals are also selling pricier sanitary products and hygiene kits. “This relates to how the needs of women and girls are overlooked—when they are the ones who are putting the needs of their families first,” says Jordan. This is also a reflection of the state of our sexual and reproductive health rights. It is important to have strong gender-conscious policies that address this.
Access to sanitary products is a human right. For women and girls, a huge part of health and overall well-being is dependent on feminine hygiene products. Male policymakers must consider the plight of women when crafting humane public programs. Jordan asserts, “It’s about recognizing that women’s and girls’ needs are of equal significance to other basic necessities.”
Put yourself in her shoes
How can we show our support for underprivileged women during the lockdown? Jordan says the best way to know what their needs are is to try to imagine being in their shoes. Those in low-income communities and working in informal economies struggle to afford basic necessities without a source of income. When taking part in donation drives, ask organizers to include sanitary pads in care packages. Power in Her Story is an example of a group that is organizing a donation drive to provide marginalized girls and women access to sanitary pads. Jordan also suggests supporting petitions for allowing business process outsourcing (BPO) employees, many of whom are women, to work from home.
Most kasambahays are women. Nikki Luna warns us not to disregard their emotional needs. They may choose to remain with you for financial reasons but their thoughts are probably with their loved ones. Reaching out to them, lending an ear and offering to help them with their work provides them with the support they deserve.
Luna urges, “Social media is a powerful tool, one must reflect before posting during a pandemic crisis.” Don’t assume that everything available to you is also within the reach of everyone else. Uploading photos of how you’re “enjoying” the lockdown with pandemic-related hashtags is insensitive, elitist and classist. We should be even more cautious of flaunting privilege.
For Luna, we can aid women and girls in abusive homes by learning the value of collective caring. Support organizations that help poor girls and women through legal assistance and shelters.
Jordan expressed that while health reminders are important, we should also include a reminder to share the burdens that come with staying at home. Men and boys should help out at home. “This could be a chance to create a healthier relationship for the entire family,” she says.
In a time like this, it’s important to remain vigilant. Let’s also be especially attentive to the needs of women under the enhanced community quarantine.