Unpaid care work exposes women to virus-related health risks, violence in Asia and the Pacific: UN

Women make up the majority of workers in the health and social welfare sectors globally

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 05 July 2021

Unequal distribution of unpaid care work between women and men is a major barrier to women’s empowerment in Asia and the Pacific. The novel coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) pandemic has increased women’s burden of unpaid care work

Globally, women make up the majority of workers in the health and social welfare sectors. Nearly one in three women work in agriculture and do three times as much unpaid care-work at home as men

The proportion of “unpaid work per day is far higher for women than men globally, while in the case of India, on average 66 per cent of women’s work is unpaid,” according to the World Economic Forum

Women in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore spent more time caring for others at home during the pandemic, according to a survey done by United Nations (UN) Women in Asia and the Pacific.

The responsibility for caring for ill family members are frequently transferred to women. This places women at a greater risk of contracting the virus.

The unpaid care work exposes women to virus-related health risks and violence, said a policy paper of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. 

Female healthcare workers experience stigma as a result of their proximity to the sick. In India, Accredited Social Health Activists, who connect communities with the public health system, have reported being abused and attacked for both their enforcement roles and their potential exposure to COVID-19. Relatives and neighbours also stigmatise them fearing contagion.

There is a considerable gender gap in access to information and communications technologies (ICT) and online resources worldwide as well as in the Asia and the Pacific, according to the policy paper. In the Asia Pacific region, 54.6 per cent men and 41.3 per cent women use the Internet.

The digital divide may shield some women from violence, but it may also put those who come online during the pandemic at greater risk. Women users, who are less experienced with ICT due to the digital gender gap, are more vulnerable to harassment.

More Internet usage may therefore lead to more opportunities for women to experience digital violence such as unsolicited pictures, sexist comments, physical threats and stalking.

Prevention efforts

The Asia and the Pacific committed to eradicating violence against women (VAW) through their engagement with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Governments must take action now to prevent the pandemic from worsening VAW in Asia and the Pacific and to meet the target of eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres by 2030.

The UN paper recommended a list of policies for addressing VAW during the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia and the Pacific, which include:

  • Designate VAW support and women’s health services as “essential”
  • Expand awareness and access to law enforcement, justice system
  • Expand shelter capacity by repurposing unused buildings
  • Eliminate stigma and other barriers to reporting violence
  • Develop innovative methods for reporting violence
  • Increase ICT skills training for women
  • Support violence prevention methods
  • Encourage partnerships between governments, civil society organisations and international organisations

Several UN agencies have issued guidance for governments. These guidelines generally emphasise spreading awareness of services via social media or word of mouth.

Another way of disseminating vital information is through mobile applications. For instance, the ‘Stand Up Against Violence’ app was recently launched in India. The app lists contact details of state and non-state agencies, service providers, and activists who can assist women victims of domestic abuse.

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