The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected people from every corner of the world, forcing us to adopt the ‘new normal’ way of life such as quarantine, social distancing, self isolation and other measures to control the spread of the infection. Hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and death tolls are alarming. In this unprecedented time, governments are expected to be accountable to their commitments to protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of its people. Maternal and newborn health, rising domestic violence, contraceptive access, safe abortion care, and addressing sexual minority groups during this pandemic are the most critical SRHR issues each government must act on.
With limited facilities for isolation and access to care for acute and emergency maternal and reproductive health services for women in labour, ceaserean sections, abortion care, newborn and other life saving procedures are at stake. These reproductive and sexual health services are expected to be delayed due to overwhelming COVID-19 cases, deployment of staff, and shortage of emergency equipment and infrastructure in most countries worldwide. Thus, the risk towards women and girls increases as health systems keep diverting resources to respond to the pandemic. Even though sexual and reproductive health services and commodities are overlooked in times of crises, women still require family planning services, menstrual health supplies and maternal health care.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, violence against women has increased, as reported by UN Women. Globally there is an alarming number of domestic violence cases being reported, causing women, children, people with disabilities and sexual minorities to be more prone to violence now more than ever. The LGBTIQ population who may be forced to live under the same roof as unsupportive family members during quarantine are also more at risk of domestic violence. Domestic violence is more likely to increase as health, security and economical worries heighten in a confined living condition.
Experts have projected that without any action from governments, around 9.5 million women and girls risk access to contraception and safe abortion globally. Besides that, there will be an additional 3 million unintended pregnancies, 2.7 million unsafe abortions. In the 37 countries Marie Stopes provides services to, there will be 11,000 pregnancy related deaths and this will definitely skyrocket considering the numbers globally. The complexities around self-managed abortion need to be addressed and governments should ensure women have the necessary information and support. Moreover, many individuals find it expensive to pay for contraceptives due to financial insecurity, causing a rise of abortions globally.
In these circumstances, governments need to be held accountable. Some recommendations are to:
In this pandemic, sexual minorities and LGBTIQ populations are more likely to face discrimination in receiving health care and legal services. In some countries, the absence of official identification documents hinders access to services, funds and relief for societally detached minority communities such as Hijras, sex workers and floating sex workers. Governments must publicly affirm that these vulnerable groups will have equal access, despite a lack of recognition and paperwork. The fight now is for inclusivity.
By Momota Hena