ASEAN leaders urged: Provide gender-based measures amid COVID-19 emergency
“The population is not homogenous. We need to consider how different segments of the population are affected, ensure that any response must be needs-based, gender-responsive, and to ensure that human rights are respected.”
This was what Ambassador of Canada to ASEAN, Diedrah Kelly, said Tuesday, April 21, in a webinar sponsored by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center for Women (ARROW).
Despite the efforts of the governments in the ASEAN Region in curbing the rate of COVID-19 infection, how do they address the women and the LGBTQ rights?
Not enough it seems.
SRH rights issues and Gender-based violence
Civil society groups and human rights defenders are becoming concerned with the rising incidence of gender-based violence all over the world. Focusing on the Southeast Asian region, it is noted that women and the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Intersex) community are among the disadvantaged sector and more prone to violence. Compared to their male counterpart, female workers face multiple-burdens – at work and at home. They are also paid less.
Quarantines, lockdowns, and restriction of movements impacted the women most, particularly those in the informal sector. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 25 million jobs will be lost globally particularly in the garment sector in the Asian Region. It would lead to the unemployment of women who are mostly working in this sector.
The number of domestic violence is also on the rise. Recent research by the Jakarta Feminist Association has indicated that the number of reported domestic violence cases against women has tripled in Indonesia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Malaysia, violence against women (VAW) shows an increase of 57% as of March while 33% increase in Singapore in February. Instead of addressing the situation as a public health issue, women are blamed due to constant nagging.
Sex workers, both women and the LGBTI, which are unrecognized work in most countries particularly in Asia, are hit hard by the pandemic.
In Thailand, an estimated 300,000 sex workers are out of work. Starting March 26, the Thai government ordered the closure of walking-streets, bars, massage parlors, and other entertainment venues. Although there is a $58 billion stimulus package to assist workers, employees, small enterprises, and other businesses affected by the pandemic, the sex workers are excluded because they cannot provide any documents proving their status as self-employed.
It is the same in Vietnam.
“Unrecognized by mainstream society, the LGBTI community engaged in the informal sector is expected to be hit the most. They also face mental health issues when they find themselves separated from their support group due to the quarantine,” said Yen Nguyen, Program Manager of the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus.
The reproductive health package is often not included in the distribution of relief packs due to limited funding or lack of understanding in its importance. The lack of access to contraception also likely increased the risk of gender-based violence.
“For many women and girls, access to key sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and supplies such as contraception, safe abortion, maternal health and reproductive cancer screening have been postponed or made inaccessible due to travel restriction and the disruption of supply chains. Responses that are not gender-inclusive might reinforce gender stereotypes and stigma,” Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of ARROW said.
Diah Satyani Saminarsih, Advisor on Gender and Youth of the WHO said that it is an urgent need for countries to uphold gender-transformative principles in addressing the pandemic.
Attacks on Human Rights defenders
In the Philippines, pandemic is also used as an excuse to arrest and attack human rights defenders. According to Maria Sol Taule of Tanggol Bayi, militarist policies violate civil and political rights.
In her report, Taule cited the arrest of women who speak up about the government’s lack of response to the health crisis.
On March 27, a 55-year old public school teacher in General Santos City in Mindanao, Juliet Espinosa, was charged with sedition in relation to cybercrime after posting her criticism on Facebook for the alleged lack of relief goods distributed to the people. On April 19, Cebu-based artist Maria Victoria “Bambi” Beltran was arrested for allegedly violating the cybercrime law and the “fake news” provision of the Bayanihan Heal as One Law (Republic Act 11469) after posting on Facebook that “9,000+ cases of COVID-19 in Zapatera, Cebu, makes the city the epicenter in the whole solar system.”
Call to ASEAN Governments
“The collection of data during the pandemic, particularly on women in the labor force, is important. The data is crucial to inform policymaking processes on financial support and training schemes for these marginalized and under-served groups,” said Sri Danti Anwar, Indonesia Representative on Women Rights to ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC).
The ACWC, as the regional inter-governmental body mandated to protect the rights of women and children, is expected to call for a meeting at the end of this month.
On their part, the civil society groups in the ASEAN region have been reaching out to their people despite their limited capacities. They have urged the governments to focus on gender-responsive measures to ensure that no one is left behind during the pandemic.
“The key idea that can help keep human dignity central to pandemic response is that human rights must be always protected and not jeopardized under the guise of saving lives,” Kelly explained.
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