On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, a webinar session was held within a series of sessions as part of the conference “Gender Dynamics in the Age of Covid-19” which is organized by Women as Partners in Progress WPP in cooperation with Khalil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace. The session highlighted the impact of COVID 19 virus on domestic violence, and how the pandemic contributed to increase and reproduce this phenomenon. The session discussed how the impact on women differs from a country to another and the structural causes for these differences. The session also discussed the main elements of strategies to prepare for and respond to gender-sensitive crises to overcome the effects of this crisis.
The session was opened by Dr. May Rihani, Director of Khalil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland, USA. She pointed to the pioneering and essential role of women in combating this virus that spreads around the world. She also praised the role of MP Wafa Bani Mustafa and her insistence on eliminating gender discrimination.
Lawyer Bani Mustafa, the Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, moderated the session. She indicated that the series of webinars will conclude with a paper that will be circulated among stakeholders on the issue of increasing domestic violence against women to help governments and the civil society to overcome this problem. She pointed out that at the beginning of this pandemic, the focus was on the health sector, and hence the focus on the economic sector due to the economic repercussions on the world. She said, “Meanwhile, a pandemic called “the shadow pandemic” or the “hidden pandemic” was growing in the shadows, and the concept of social protection was concealed with it.” She also stressed that the UN Secretary-General issued a statement calling on governments to “put women’s safety first when responding to the pandemic.” She pointed out that this session and the next sessions will host experts from a number of Arab countries to shed light on this problem and its implications.
Dr. Abla Amawi, Secretary-General of the Higher Population Council, spoke about the study carried out by the Council on the impact of the pandemic on gender equality. She pointed to the weaknesses that were revealed during the Corona pandemic, including the absence of women in decision-making or the inclusion of their needs in response plans. She indicated that according to the global statistics; the percentage of infection among males is more than females globally with a slight difference. On the other hand, she confirmed that the health conditions of women in Jordan put them in the circle of danger, as women in Jordan are more vulnerable to chronic diseases than men and therefore will be more vulnerable to COVID 19 infection. She indicated that the percentage of chronic diseases infection among females in Jordan is (13.9%) and among males is (11.8%).
She pointed to the study conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies, which showed that 12% of women in Jordan were subject to abuse by a family member during the quarantine, and that 34% stated that the curfew led to quarrels, disputes or violence within the family. She also stressed on the dangerous implications of the interruption of reproductive health services during the pandemic.
She indicated that the percentage of individual institutions run by women from home is 56.8%, and therefore women will be severely affected economically due to the pandemic. She pointed out that 25.6% of women work in primary occupations with limited income. “Such occupations can’t be accomplished from home and women working in these fields will be highly affected by the curfew.” She added. She emphasized that 14% of families are headed by women, and the harm that may be inflicted upon them due to the multiplication of responsibilities assigned to them during the curfew has not been addressed. Moreover, she indicated that the phenomenon of child marriage may increase in the light of the Corona pandemic and said that there was marginalization for women with disabilities and domestic workers in the light of the Corona pandemic where violence against them doubly increases.
Lina Abu Habib, MENA Strategic Advisor of the Global Fund for Women in Lebanon, indicated that women in Lebanon and Jordan face a similar challenge in light of the Corona pandemic, which is the lack of the commitment of both countries to bring children of Jordanian and Lebanese women married to foreigners from abroad in these hard circumstances. “There is a historical dilemma of inequality, so both sexes are affected differently by the pandemic,” she said. She pointed to the difficult conditions experienced by women working on the front lines and indicated that the number of injured workers on the front lines in the medical sector is 740 cases, including 60 female cases. She indicated that women occupy 70% of the professions that require saving the lives of others, and that they are working without full protection and without adequate wages. She noted that in Lebanon, domestic workers are among the groups most vulnerable to various types of exploitation.
She pointed to a number of conditions contributed to aggravating the situation including: jobs losses as a result of the pandemic, the difficult economic conditions, the mounting price of the dollar and the collapse of the local currency and the suffering of day laborers and taxi drivers. “The presence of women in the labor market is originally less than men, and that makes them more vulnerable during crises.”
She praised the role of Enough Violence and Exploitation Organization “Kafa” in Lebanon and stated that it received 560 cases in April 2020. “This percentage is twice the percentage they received in the month of March.” She said. Moreover, she added that in January 2020 Lebanon witnessed 6 murders against women and that “Kafa” noticed the increasing number of complaints of violence after every murder. She also praised Kafa’s role in providing services to victims from their homes by connecting them with judges through WhatsApp, which makes it easier for victims who bother to go to courts. She stressed on the fact that governments should recognize the importance of care providing institutions.
Dr. Sahar Al-Qawasmi, a founding member of the Coalition representing Palestine, indicated that COVID 19 was amplified by the media as it was preceded by several pandemics that led to hundreds of millions of deaths, but it did not get the echo that the Corona got due to the rapid spread of the virus. She said, “It is a wicked killer targeting the most vulnerable groups and those with weak immune system.” She said this virus shed light on human rights and health issues, as it showed the imbalance of human access to treatment, noting that the world’s priorities in the future will go towards health and social issues. She emphasized that the crisis showed that national economies lead the stage in crises. She expressed her concern regarding institutions working on women’s rights issues and their ability to continue to operate under this pandemic. She noted that in cases of violence, males dominate more than females due to the prevailing patriarchal thought.
She pointed to the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners, and indicated that the Palestinian Authority demanded the occupation to release female captives, but they didn’t respond and said: “Even during the arrests, the occupier does not adhere to the conditions of prevention!” Finally, she stressed on the need for studies on human behavior during crises.