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Mapping the Impact of COVID-19 in the Indo-Pacific Region II: Women, peace and security practitioner views

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The first comprehensive review of the impacts of COVID-19 on women, peace and security practitioners (WPS) across the Indo-Pacific conducted by Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre (GPS) was completed in May 2020. That review based on a survey of 139 practitioners in 29 countries (translated into 13 languages) found that COVID-19 restrictions were having a major impact on women’s access to security, economic resources and health services and practitioners’ access and capacity to safeguard women’s rights in conflict-affected, displaced and vulnerable communities across the region (UN Women 2020). The results noted significant problems. Most respondents (80 per cent) stated that COVID-19 had impacted their work on WPS. More than two thirds (68 per cent) had changed their program focus as a result of COVID-19, and no new funding has been extended to support this pivot. Across all 29 countries surveyed, continuity of jobs and income was the main issue, followed by movement restriction, food security and loss of health services, including reproductive health services.

In our second survey in the Indo-Pacific region we sought to explore further the economic, health, and security impacts on women, and how these impacts may have changed over time. In the economic sphere, the survey sought to gauge how migrant, internally displaced and refugee women were experiencing the pandemic. In terms of health and security, we wanted to examine the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ in the region, by which we refer to the rise in domestic and gender-based violence during COVID-19 lockdowns, coupled with more limited access to essential services, including reproductive health services. We also wanted to know how the WPS practitioners surveyed were responding to these growing impacts.

Our analysis of WPS practitioner responses found that the pandemic has led to:

· An increase in the incidence of domestic violence and other GBV.

· 70 per cent of respondents reporting that the frequency of domestic violence had increased and 64 per cent reported that the frequency of other forms of GBV had also increased.

· An increase in the costs of living and a drastic loss of income for many women.

· An increase in unpaid care work and expenses due to children being confined to homes, and migrant family members returning home.

· A decrease in access to medical and educational, and reproductive health services.

· For those migrants forced or unable to repatriate there was an increase in distress.

· Sixty-five per cent of WPS practitioners reported heavier workloads.

· On average, 60 per cent reported that their organizations had lost funding.

We know that women and girls are disproportionately affected by pandemics, like conflicts and disasters as they experience unequal gender norms. This second survey found that the extent of this gender inequality is influenced by intersectional factors such as location, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, and socio-economic status. Overall, our analysis of the survey shows that WPS practitioners in the Indo-Pacific are contributing in important ways to the delivery of services aimed at mitigating the effects of COVID-19. They are already playing a “critical role” in COVID-19 response as is called for by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2532 (July 2020), paragraph 7. However, more needs to be done to support the CSOs working in this area responding to communities and populations in situations of displacement, poverty and insecurity in the region and disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as a result.

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