By Caroline Mwanga
NEW YORK (IDN) – In a joint statement, ninety-one women’s organizations from Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria and Yemen have joined a global appeal issued by UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the outset of the pandemic.
On March 23, Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all the humankind.
The COVID-19 global health crisis has posed devastating threats to women and girls in fragile and conflict-affected countries, says the statement. All those living in humanitarian situations face dire circumstances as conflicts have interrupted health services and destroyed health infrastructures. But women and girls are at heightened risk as they often take shelter in crowded places, with limited access to water and sanitation.
Though the challenges in translating international calls for a ceasefire into stable truces on the ground are enormous, women peacebuilders have been at the frontline of the COVID-19 response in their communities. They have been working tirelessly to alleviate the hardships of the pandemic on their already exhausted populations, says the joint statement issued on May 29 by women’s organizations.
It was an outcome of an interactive dialogue aimed at capitalizing on the efforts made by women’s organizations in conflict-affected countries across the Arab States region to help communities curb the spread of the virus and mitigate its social-economic impacts.
The dialogue aimed at “Silencing the Guns in Times of COVID-19”, was organized with support from the UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States.
The women’s organization regret that, despite the alarming threats posed by COVID-19 and repeated calls to stop fighting and unite against the deadly pandemic, fighting continues in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of Israeli occupation continues to cripple Palestine, adds the statement.
“Much of our infrastructure has been destroyed, our health facilities have been continuously targeted, and our livelihoods have been severed as a tool of war. COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time,” the statement points out. “A large-scale outbreak of the pandemic in our countries would take our suffering to yet another level,” the women’s organizations warn.
From the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, the women’s organizations which had already been trying to alleviate the hardships of war on their communities took on the additional challenge of helping stop the spread of the virus and assist affected communities.
“Equipped with digital technologies and the belief that we can fight this common enemy only together, we have worked with people in different parts of our countries to spread knowledge about preventive measures and help our inadequate health facilities to provide services,” the joint statement emphasizes.
Unless we stand united, COVID-19 will exacerbate ongoing conflicts and may even give rise to new ones, eroding what is left of our social fabrics, it adds. “If we allow this virus to spread further in our war-torn countries, it would ravage us with no regard to our national, ethnic, religious or political differences. It would hit us all, especially the most vulnerable among us, including children and the elderly. So, we need to put our differences aside and fight this common enemy before it is too late.”
The women’s organizations call for a ceasefire and the immediate implementation of the relevant international resolutions. These, they say, are the first and most essential moves in the battle against this invisible enemy in our region.
“This would not only give us a respite from the fighting and allow humanitarian aid and health services to reach the most vulnerable communities but would also open new channels for dialogue. Instead of spending more money on protracted wars, resources must be immediately redirected to preventing the pandemic from spreading and helping those who suffered most from armed conflict.”
“Our drained countries do not need yet another call to fall on deaf ears. We have already missed many opportunities to usher in peace and unity. If heeded, our call would not only allow our communities to have rest from senseless fighting finally. However, it would also show us that we can still put our differences aside and silence our guns in the interest of our collective safety and security. The pandemic has only made the need for us, both men AND women, to finally sit at one table and make peace as urgent as ever.”
Earlier, the UN Secretary-General in a Policy Brief on April 9 highlighted “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women”. He explored how women and girls’ lives are changing in the face of COVID-19 and outlined suggested priority measures to accompany both the immediate response and longer-term recovery efforts.
The paper pointed out that the year 2020, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, was intended to be ground-breaking for gender equality. Instead, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.
“The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic”, the UN chief noted.
“Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, and women are at the heart of care and response efforts underway, Guterres said.
As frontline responders, health professionals, community volunteers, transport and logistics managers, scientists and more, women are making critical contributions to address the outbreak every day.
The majority of caregivers, at home and in the communities, are also women. Furthermore, they are at increased risk of infection and loss of livelihood, and existing trends point to less access to sexual and reproductive health and rise in domestic violence during the crisis.
UN Women is bringing up-to-date information and analysis on how and why gender matters in COVID-19 response. [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 June 2020]
Photo: In Yemen after nearly five years of war, women have been hit hardest by the conflict. Credit: Kellie Ryan | International Rescue Committee
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