We support women and girls in war and crisis zones
17. June 2020 - News

COVID-19 has particularly drastic impacts on the life of women in crisis regions

Press release, June 17, 2020. International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19: The new coronavirus pandemic is making existing inequalities worse and exacerbating discrimination against women and girls in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Liberia. Governments around the world, including the German government, should support women's rights organisations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has particularly drastic impacts on the situations of women and girls in regions hit by war and crisis. "Crises such as this current pandemic exacerbate existing inequalities and in particular the discrimination against women and girls. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Liberia, sexualised and domestic violence has increased significantly. Women and girls have reduced access to healthcare provision, and they lose their jobs more often than otherwise," explains Monika Hauser on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19.

"In times of crisis, the work of women's rights organisations is especially important. medica mondiale is calling on governments around the world, including Germany, to assist human rights defenders in order to uphold and enforce the rights of women globally, during this Covid-19 crisis and afterwards", says Monika Hauser.

Jamila Afghani, Afghanistan: "This leads to an increase in stress, which is all too frequently released in the form of violence at home."

For example, in Afghanistan: "Even before the pandemic, for many women in Afghanistan their own home was already the most dangerous place," says Jamila Afghani, Director of Medica Afghanistan in Kabul. She observes: "Men are often earning significantly less during the coronavirus crisis and many even lost their jobs. This leads to an increase in stress, which is all too frequently released in the form of violence at home." Medica Afghanistan is counselling women who are threatened by or have survived domestic violence. However, the lockdown in Afghanistan severely restricts this work. For example, women's counselling points in hospitals had to close and these were often the first and only point of contact accessible to the women affected. "We try to replace this with telephone counselling, but this is often not sufficient or feasible," says Ms Afghani. The legal assistance team at Medica Afghanistan is currently only able to support women in court in cases of absolute emergency.

In order to contain the spread of Covid-19 within Afghan prisons, some 14,000 condemned criminals have been let out on bail, including Taliban members. Some 350 women have been let out of the women's jails, but almost 150 women and more than 110 children remain locked up because they cannot afford to pay the bail. They were ostracised by their families and are now destitute. "This is one example of the deep structural inequality that women experience in all aspects of society and politics in Afghanistan, not just during the Covid-19 pandemic," says Ms Afghani. Medica Afghanistan has been supporting imprisoned women for many years and observes that they are suffering from additional psychological stress during the coronavirus crisis. The women commonly share a tiny cell with more than five people and receive no healthcare provision at all.

Coronavirus pandemic in Bosnia and Herzegovina: triggering memories of the war during the 1990s

In Bosnia and Herzegovina the lockdown is triggering memories of the war during the 1990s, which raises the risk of retraumatisation for many people. "Having to remain at home reminds many people of the life-threatening danger they faced when leaving the house during the war," says Sabiha Husić, Director of Medica Zenica.

The consequences are often depression, tension and aggressive behaviour. Ms Husić explains: "In some families the situation has escalated into severe violence. The victims are almost always women and girls." There is no government response: "The police in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been unwilling and unable to react to the cases of domestic violence because they are overwhelmed with the enforcement of the strict stay-at-home order." This has led to night-time curfews being imposed. In one month alone, April, more than 28,000 people lost their job. These were generally jobs commonly carried out by women, such as those in the tourism, textile and retail sectors.

Corona crisis in Liberia: public restrictions had particularly strong impacts on women and girls

Another example is the West African country of Liberia. "During the Ebola crisis in 2014 to 2016 we experienced how public restrictions had particularly strong impacts on women and girls regarding their healthcare. We are seeing the same now during the Covid-19 crisis,” says Caroline Bowah, Director of medica Liberia. For example, the lockdown was imposed without any exceptions being made for pregnant women or even midwives. They cannot leave their house after 3 pm.

Dr Hauser is nevertheless optimistic: "In these difficult conditions, our partner organisations are reorganising their work and adapting their activity. Working under the conditions of crisis – including pandemics – is something that our partners are experienced in."

Five years ago, in 2015, the General Assembly of the UN designated June 19 as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict in order to raise awareness of the situation of women in crisis areas and improve their situation.

For interviews on the situation of women's rights in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Liberia, our German- and English-speaking experts are available.

Editorial request:
Please note the individual way of writing the name of each women's rights organisation, since there are specific differences, for example in capitalisation.

medica mondiale e.V.
Helena Haack
Press Officer
Tel.: +49 221- 931898-25
E-mail: presse@medicamondiale.org

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