Arab women disproportionately affected by COVID-19

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Coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a prominent human development crisis, leading to increasing gender inequality across various sectors of society. Worldwide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus disrupted the economic activities of various businesses such as hospitality, retail and food services, which account for 54 percent of the jobs for women globally. With these sectors suffering the impact of pandemic lockdown restrictions, women potentially suffered more than men.

Earlier this week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that COVID-19 has had a devastating social and economic impact on women and girls which has reversed decades of limited and fragile efforts to achieve gender equality. As per an April report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), women in the Arab region are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic.

Reportedly, women in the Arab world have also faced severe social and economic repercussions of the pandemic. According to data collected by UN Women, existing inequalities and discrimination against women have worsened in many regions, There has been a sharp rise in domestic violence against women across the world, including in Arab countries. Based on data compiled by NGOs in Lebanon, violence against women rose by 100 percent during the initial weeks of pandemic lockdown beginning March.

UN data also shows that an estimated 1.7 million jobs were lost in the Arab region during the pandemic crisis, out of whom 700,000 are provided by women. In addition, in many Arab countries, women and girls are deprived of primary education due to societal preferences given to boys during enrolment in the schools. Almost half of the female population in the Arab region has an access to a mobile phone or is not connected to the Internet.

Noting that schooling moved online across various regions due to lockdown measures, girls were further disadvantaged due to lack of online access or equipment such as mobile phones, computers or even the internet for remote learning. Due to alarming literacy rates in the region, the majority of women face disproportionate access to accurate information and awareness related to Coronavirus and way to respond to the health crisis.

Furthermore, women workers employed as nurses, midwives, and support staff at medical facilities are more prone to health risks due to added physical and emotional exhaustion. For internally displaced women and girls, along with women migrant workers in conflict zones, access to basic hygiene facilities, sanitation and water have been a major challenge in many Arab countries.

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