During a global crisis, it can be a heavy lift to get many countries to agree on anything. Yet this week, 59 governments did just that, issuing a statement calling on governments to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights and promote gender-responsiveness in the Covid-19 crisis. The statement comes the same week that governments had been scheduled to participate in the first meeting of Generation Equality, marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, now cancelled due to Covid-19.
Even before the virus had reached pandemic levels, experts started to raise alarm bells that government responses to the public health crisis had a disparate impact on women and girls – data from China in February showed increasing rates of domestic violence. Since then, the many gendered impacts of the pandemic have come into focus – from new restrictions on access to abortion, to risks to maternal health, to girls’ education, to harms to women domestic, garment, and sex workers, among others.
It is therefore encouraging that in the absence of a global meeting to reaffirm commitment to gender equality, so many governments have committed to ensuring the pandemic does not reverse progress already made on realizing human rights for women and girls. Their statement is impressive in its scope, including a recognition that governments must prioritize “sexual and reproductive health needs, including psychosocial support services, and protection from gender-based violence.” It also recognizes the special attention needed for adolescent health, particularly with children out of school.
I’ve seen first-hand how epidemics – from cholera in Haiti to Zika in Brazil – have an outsized impact on women and girls. The negative effects often persist long after the epidemic and may never be remedied. So, I applaud these governments for boldly calling for the participation of women and girls in gender-inclusive response efforts. This pandemic is unprecedented and the demands on governments are many. This week’s statement should be a lodestar for ensuring the rights of women and girls are protected. Where governments fall short of their human rights obligations and their stated commitments, women around the world – forum or no – will be watching.