We interviewed Dr. Lupita Ramos, academic and researcher at the University of Guadalajara, Mexico, to give our listeners and readers an overview of the impact of the pandemic on girls and women. A feminist perspective on the consequences of COVID-19 on the lives of girls and women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is a very important issue. It is urgent to keep it on the discussion table, not only here on the radio, but also to make it part of the public policy of states and governments, because when this pandemic began, we feminist organisations warned from the beginning about the differentiated impact it could have on girls and women in relation to men.
At first we pointed out the issue of violence because we saw it coming. From Latin America we were seeing what was happening in those countries where the pandemic began, we were seeing the issue of violence in particular. The measures that were taken, especially the restriction of mobility and confinement, were taken without measuring the effects that this could have on the lives of girls and women.
Immediately the diagnoses, analyses and studies of what was happening there began to emerge, that is to say the increase in domestic violence, the consequences of the confinement of girls and women with the aggressor, with the generator of violence, this of course began to have an impact.
When we began to read what was happening in those countries, we warned at the regional level here in Latin America about this situation and we even made public statements from various platforms of feminist organisations, in the networks we are part of. We insisted that the measures taken to contain the pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean should be differentiated, that we were already seeing what would happen if they were not taken.
This was not done and the impact here was even greater than in those countries because here the violence had been there before, that is, we live in a region that is unfortunately profoundly unequal and with high rates of gender violence, violence against women and feminicide. We began to see a 38% increase in gender violence.
Studies and data
I would like to comment on some very comprehensive studies that have been carried out by various bodies. For example, UN Women in a regional report points out the different impacts and implications for women and men in the region. The first thing it tells us is that women are in the first line of response, i.e. health professionals, caregivers, volunteers assume greater physical and emotional risks. The saturation of health systems and the lack of means of protection affect caregivers, but since women are the majority of those who take on unpaid care work, the burden tripled: they took on the care of the sick, became the teachers of their children and also ensured the provision of basic goods. These increased burdens on women had a physical and emotional impact on their lives.
Girls and adolescents
There are two areas in particular that I would like to highlight. One is the increase in forced child pregnancy, child pregnancy which is obviously forced. A girl does not get pregnant just because she decides to, because she is informed and wants to. Child pregnancy is always the product of sexual violence. Latin America and the Caribbean already ranked first in the world in terms of child and adolescent pregnancy. With the pandemic, this problem has increased. It is precisely the violence experienced at home that has led to a greater number of child and adolescent pregnancies and this, of course, has a definite impact on the girl’s life.
The other issue is education. Unesco indicates that more or less 11 million girls are at risk of not returning to school after the Covid-19 crisis, and among the factors that influence this non-return are precisely the violence that I have mentioned. There are other elements that are present, such as lack of access to technology, the issue of resources, among others.
ECLAC also did a study and the figures and data that we read are heartbreaking because they tell us that there has been a 10-year setback, that is to say, a decade of these small advances that girls and women had in terms of equality, a 10-year setback. So, today we not only have to look at how we are moving forward, but also at how we are not going backwards and how we are recovering what has been lost.
Well, we do not have enough time here to talk about all these differentiated impacts, but also on the economic issue, this reduction in the already precarious income of girls and women in the region had an impact above all on informal workers and workers in the domestic sector. Another issue is that of migrant women and migrant women, also how it affected them in a differentiated way and how discrimination, xenophobia, trafficking, serious problems such as trafficking, prostitution, also increased in this period.
I would like to comment on some of the recommendations that have already been made. There is agreement that “there will be no effective response to Covid-19 if the impacts on women are not addressed and gender dynamics are not integrated into the response”, as UN Women has stated. With this in mind, we have made and will continue to insist on a number of recommendations:
1- Ensure the availability of data aggregated by sex and gender analysis. This is extremely important: to know how COVID is impacting girls, women, men, at different ages by sex, gender, etc.
2- Allocate sufficient resources to respond to the needs of women and girls.
3- Avoid reduction of funds from existing programmes. This is a serious problem, i.e., under the pretext of attending to COVID, existing programmes were suddenly reduced in their attention, and this is something to be very careful about.
4-Assure that the immediate needs of women working in the health sector are met.
5-Adopt direct compensation measures for informal workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers.
6- Guarantee inclusion in cash transfer programmes, promote specific strategies for women’s empowerment and economic recovery, such as access to credit, financial services, technology and new markets. So far, the programmes that are being implemented in the region are aimed at businesses.
7- Ensure the continuity of essential services to respond to violence against girls and women and adopt measures to ensure access for migrant and refugee women to health services, employment, education, among others.
From organizations and citizens
I think that of course it is up to each of us to do our bit. What can we do to denounce violence, to weave support networks around girls and women and to be able to accompany processes of access to justice, for example, of denunciation. How do we weave these support networks from the community in order to make progress around all these deficiencies that we said are happening with migrant women, with girls who are experiencing violence, who have become pregnant, what do we do, what can we do from our little grain of sand that we can contribute wherever we are, however we are, whatever we can do, I tell you about reporting, about accompaniment, about community contribution, not only financially, but also intellectually. We can provide advice. And in any case, the problem as a whole is fundamental. Girls and women have a different impact and the responses from states, governments and society must be different.