How COVID-19 coronavirus can affect the situation of women

Some experts believe that social distancing and quarantine may worsen the situation of women during crises. Uzbek Review has analyzed those messages and addressed both the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan and non-governmental organizations within Central Asia to find out their opinion thereon.

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Как уменьшить социальное влияние коронавируса на положение женщин

“Crisis always exacerbates gender inequality”

Maria Holtsberg, humanitarian and disaster risks adviser at UN Women Asia and Pacific.

Foreign experts are concerned that social distancing, which is recommended for preventing non-proliferation of COVID-19 may provoke an increase in domestic violence and violence against children, as well as affect the economic situation of women in general.

Economic burden

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), women all over the world perform three to four times more unpaid housework than men. If the healthcare system becomes more challenged then before, it will force many people having chronic diseases to be taken care of at home. This will increase both overall burden on women and risk for them to get infected. Researchers, having analyzed Ebola outbreaks in Africa between 1976 and 2014 noted that the incidence rate among women was higher. Biological sex, meanwhile, did not affect the probability of infection, however, gender roles had their own impact: women took care of the sick more often, and therefore got infected themselves.    

Closing schools and kindergartens because of the proliferation of coronavirus disease COVID-19 all over the world seems the only reasonable measure to be taken. At the same time, the workload on mothers can grow significantly. If there is no one to look after children, it is most likely that a woman will stay at home and do it. This is well confirmed by various studies. For example, in the USA, which belong to the countries with the high gender equality level, i.e. to group 1 according to the Gender Development Index, women are ten times more likely to stay at home with their sick children than men. Such studies have not been conducted in Uzbekistan; however, the gender equality level in the country is lower than that of the US: Uzbekistan is among countries with medium equality level (group 3).   

If both family members switch to telecommuting or part-time jobs, then taking care of children with a high probability will be borne by mothers: doing homework, entertaining etc. It may negatively affect the quality of work done by a woman, thus lowering her value from the perspective of the employer. According to the messages coming from social networks users, in some companies, female employees staying at home with children are asked to take a non-paid leave or compensatory time-off at the expense of the annual leave for the period of quarantine. Therefore, women lose their income or are deprived of opportunity to have a proper rest. Dilovar Kabulova, the Director of “Civil Initiatives Support Center” NGO believes that mothers could publicize such cases, if the public TV channels set up a helpline for them.           

According to Dilovar Kabulova, the Ministry of Mahalla and Family Affairs could take over some part of payouts against work incapacity certificates. By comparison, in early March the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan announced that it would pay up to about 80 US dollars per person per day as income compensation for parents taking leave from work in need of taking care of children while the schools are temporarily closed. Such measure will apply to both regular and non-regular workers who take leave between February 27 to March 31.  

Women who work in shadow economy may also suffer. Unofficial employment, salaries paid out in envelopes, absence of social guarantees lead to difficult choice faced by a woman with children: either she leaves her children unattended, or she loses her job. According to former Minister of Economy and Industry Botir Khodjaev, shadow economy volume in Uzbekistan in 2019 amounted to 45-46% of GDP.  

Dilovar Kabulova believes that in Uzbekistan it is quite possible to reduce the likelihood of the risks described above. It is necessary to set up a round-the-clock hotline under government supervision, which will deal with various issues connected with quarantine and its impacts. Let us recall that now the hotline 1003 of the Ministry of Health is functioning all over the country, where the specialists of the healthcare system answer public questions regarding COVID-19 coronavirus. However, they are not authorized to respond to possible negative impacts of social distancing, for example, in economic terms.     

According to Dilovar Kabulova, the government hotline could involve all structures, from the Cabinet of Ministers to the district level. Operators receiving messages should promptly forward them to the appropriate responsible institutions. The applicant should be provided with the feedback within 24 hours: what has been done, in what way the problem has been solved. Based on the nature of an appeal, the authorities can involve media, NGOs, managers of work collectives, banks, etc. to provide targeted help and assistance. Transparent reporting is needed to know whereon the finances allocated for the quarantine go to. High professionals should stand at the top of the hotline to prevent panic and fears among the population.  

Domestic violence

Social distancing of a woman can trigger a surge in domestic violence. China has already faced this.   Wan Fei, head of the anti-domestic violence nonprofit organization in Hubei central province, informed that 162 domestic violence cases had been reported to a nearby police station in February 2020, i.e. almost triple so much as compared to the same period of the previous year (47 reports). According to him, the number of cases registered in January had doubled compared to the same period of the previous year. Wan Fei believes that fear and anxiety due to the quarantine, as well as increased economic stress on many families contributed to the growth in domestic violence. At the same time, the quarantine weakened the existing support systems for victims of domestic violence.

Michelle Sperzel, CEO of Harbor House in Central Florida, a shelter for the victims of domestic violence, stressed that pandemic or natural disaster can escalate an already dangerous situation – putting women, children and animals at a greater risk of being emotionally and physically abused.   

“People are being asked to stay at home because it’s safe,” Sperzel said. “The reality is, for many people, home is anything but safe.”

Joanne Yates, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW in Australia also highlighted risks of social isolation for victims of domestic violence: “Women who suffer domestic violence are already isolated, they’re isolated from family often, from friends often, and sometimes, even regular workplaces. So, an enforced self-isolation might in fact unintentionally increase their exposure to violence”.

“The crisis that we are going through and the quarantine could unfortunately create a fertile ground for domestic violence”

Marlene Schiappa, France’s Secretary of State in Charge of Gender Equality

Jurgita Pečiūrienė from EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality) agrees with her: “In times of crisis and natural disasters, there is a documented rise in domestic abuse. As normal life shuts down, victims – who are usually women – can be exposed to abusers for long period of time and cut off from social and institutional support. <…> The financial insecurity that often prohibits domestic violence victims from leaving abusers can also worsen in the aftermath of a crisis”.

Fearing that domestic violence may escalate further as a result of social distancing, charities in some countries offer online support to victims of domestic violence who are forced to be isolated together with their partners. Over the weekend, the US National Domestic Violence Hotline issued a statement. Experts described how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact intimate partner violence survivors.

According to the Committee on Legal Statistics of Kazakhstan, in 2019, 25,730 victims of domestic violence filed complaints against the aggressors over criminal offenses. An administrative arrest was assigned to 5,518 aggressors, 4,099 were issued a warning, and a fine was issued to 74 people.

Dina Tansari (Smailova), founder of the Nemolchi.KZ Aid Foundation for Victims of Violence, informed that their hotline had received more than 3,500 calls the previous year. About 70% of them related to domestic violence against women and children.

The problem of domestic violence exists also in Uzbekistan. According to U-Report surveys on domestic violence in Uzbekistan, 83% of respondents agree that there is domestic violence in this country. 62% of respondents believe that girls and women are more likely to suffer from violence.

According to the Sixth periodic report of Uzbekistan prepared by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in July 2018 – November 2019 more than 15 thousand women and girls addressed the centers for the rehabilitation and adaptation of domestic violence victims for psychological, legal and social assistance.

Author contacted the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan to find out how social distancing can affect their work with victims of domestic violence. The department noted that the recommendations to stay at home were temporary measures taken for the safety of citizens and the prevention of COVID-19 infection proliferation. The internal affairs authorities continue to work with the reports of female victims of violence in their normal mode:

  1. The Law “About protection of women against oppression and violence” was adopted on September 2, 2019 in Uzbekistan. It introduced a new tool to protect women from aggressors – a protection order. This document provides state protection to a woman who has suffered from oppression or violence.
  2. In all departments of the Internal Affairs Authorities of the Republic, there are telephone numbers of the Heads of the Directorate-General for Preventive Actions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan. All regional departments of the Internal Affairs Authorities have special Women’s Affairs Departments. Each district has an inspector of Women’s Affairs. When having means of communication available, any woman who finds herself in a difficult life situation can ask for help.
  3. Employees strictly respect the recommended safety measures to prevent the proliferation of COVID-19 coronavirus. Women’s Affairs Inspectors receive citizens having family and domestic problems, if necessary, provide them with social and legal assistance, issue protective orders.
  4. Hotline 1169 operates in the centers for the rehabilitation and adaptation of victims of violence. Victims of violence have the right to receive free legal advice, economic, social, psychological, medical and other assistance.
  5. Women affected by violence and oppression can be accommodated in rehabilitation and adaptation centers for victims of violence. Over the past period, there wasn’t a situation so far, that there were not enough places in such centers.
  6. An unjustified refusal to issue a protection order can be appealed by the telephone hotline of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan (1102) or directly in the Women’s Affairs Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan: + 998-71-2561418.  

Umida Abdullaeva, Head of the Women’s Affairs Department of the Directorate-General for Preventive Actions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, informed Uzbek Review that to date, prevention inspectors had issued more than 250 protection orders. She noted that many women perceived the protection order as the latter measure in family and domestic relations, when further nothing but divorce could be expected. Women fear that the restrictions stipulated by such orders can ruin the family. Umida Abdullaeva reminds that help received on time can prevent not only a wrong-doing or crime against women, but also can help to save the family. After all, the very fact of state protection completely discourages a man from using violence against a woman in the future.

“Affected women must realize that by silencing on the violence acts in the family they will never be able to save it”    

Umida Abdullaeva, Head of the Women’s Affairs Department of the Directorate-General for Preventive Actions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan

Dina Tansari fears that in Kazakhstan the flow of appeals from victims of violence will increase: “In conditions of mass hysteria, isolation, of course, the aggression will increase. Firstly, any idleness provokes alcoholism. Now many people refer to allegedly disinfecting effect of alcohol and require a liquor, which, indeed, is the first provocateur of scandals and aggression. Secondly, men do not stand up long presence of children nearby ― they get tired of noise. If a father of a family does not have a possibility to isolate, he will accumulate aggression and then direct his anger on his closest ones. In our society, head of the family has an unwritten right to the emotional turpitude. He must not get tired, he must have good living conditions, he must not be hungry, he has to be fed, he must not get bored, he must be entertained and have proper conditions to be in a good mood! And if he is on telecommuting, then everyone has to toe the line. It is a challenge for the whole family, for wisdom and proper distribution of powers between the spouses. And given that in Kazakh typical families several families live in one house, it will definitely be very difficult”.

According to Dina’s opinion, the following measures are to be taken:

  1. Ensuring provision of protective regulations. Local police officers must issue such documents without waiting for the court as the majority of institutions are closed or on telecommuting so far.
  2. Daily monitoring of families, which are in follow-up by the police because of domestic violence. Local police officers should regularly come to such families and inquire about the current situation. Indeed, the closure of shelters for compulsory quarantine can cause non-admission of new domestic violence survivors until the end of pandemic. Probably, detention centers will also be in quarantine, therefore it will be impossible to isolate aggressors for 10-15 days.   
  3. Strengthening the work of online-services, helplines. For instance, Nemolchi.KZ fund does not have a shelter, but its members advise victims of violence over the phone almost around the clock: explain the strategy and action plan, send them to the police, hand hold them, help with reporting the situation. If the number of phone calls increases, it may be difficult for them: “If only there were any resources in each region, because now we are the only ones available for the whole Kazakhstan!” At the moment they are working only for the donations from Facebook subscribers not getting any support from the state or international donors.  

Everyone understands that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has become a new challenge for humanity. And everyone is concerned about the impacts of this pandemic, which the countries already sensate. No less misgivings are caused by the forecasts of future damage for all the countries. When assessing economic risks, it is very important to pay attention to social policy and the protection of vulnerable segments of the population. Risks for women are hard to underestimate. Perhaps now it is the right time for the states to take measures to ensure a secure future for them. 

Author: Irina Matvienko

Disclaimer: the ideas and thoughts are solely of the author, and he does  not affiliate himself with any political institution or party.



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