March 2020 marked with the start of a global pandemic outbreak in Pakistan. In less than a month, COVID-19 led to the major economic recession, with potentially strong impacts on the livelihoods of vulnerable groups. In Pakistan, this pandemic further heightened the pre-existing gender inequalities.

Almost half of the population of Pakistan is affected badly on the economic front, facing acute domestic violence and is deprived of basic health facilities.

Violence against women and girls (VAWG), is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime, and Pakistan is no exception to it. Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18 shows that 28% of women aged between15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and 6% have experienced sexual violence. 7% of the women who have ever been pregnant have experienced violence during their pregnancy and 34% of ever-married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence. The most common type of spousal violence is emotional violence (26%) which is followed by physical violence (23%). 5% of married women have experienced spousal sexual violence. Trends suggest that the heightened rate of unemployment in this COVID time is increasing the depression and aggression which may likely increase the risk of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. Women with disabilities and transgender are more likely to be impacted by domestic violence than their peers. 

Women are on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 70 percent of health workers are women. Women make up the majority of careers in education and health field. Moreover, approximately 20% of the women in Pakistan are currently involved in income-generating activities. Most of them are part of the informal low wage market. During public health emergencies, it is these low-wage markets that are most adversely affected. The economic downturn has disproportionately affected women more than men. In a recent survey conducted by FAFEN, one of the organizations working on the subject of democracy and election reveals that 26 % of the women were terminated from their jobs after the announcement of the lockdown by the government. 

Being female myself, I wanted a strong input from my women representatives in national politics to take stance on addressing these issues. Our government should take immediate steps to:

  • Enhance women’s participation and leadership in parliamentary decision-making on COVID-19
  • Pay attention to gender-responsive COVID-19 legislation
  • Oversee government action on the pandemic from a gender perspective
  • Increase the roles of female parliamentarians in communicating and raising awareness of COVID-19 and its effects. 

Contributed by: Ambreen Kanwal, Social Activist 

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