World Population Day 2020: Women suffered most as COVID-19 took a toll on reproductive health

Women had to skip abortions, undergo unwanted pregnancies, deliver babies at home and suffer domestic violence

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Friday 10 July 2020
Many women in India had to skip abortions and undergo unwanted pregnancies owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Flickr
Many women in India had to skip abortions and undergo unwanted pregnancies owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Flickr Many women in India had to skip abortions and undergo unwanted pregnancies owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: Flickr

The country-wide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25, 2020, has been harsher on India’s women than men in matters of reproductive health, safety and security.

Women were deprived of abortion during the lockdown. They had to undergo unwanted pregnancies. They had to deliver babies at home. They had to face physical violence and some of them had to skip meals.

In 2015, there were 15.6 million abortions in India according to a study conducted by leading US-based research and policy organisation, the Guttmacher Institute. The abortion rate was 47 per 1,000 women aged 15–49 years.

According to an estimate by international non-profit, Ipas, 1.85 million women will be unable to access abortion services as a near-term impact of COVID-19, directly affecting their sexual and reproductive health.

There are several reports highlighting the drop in institutional deliveries.

Data from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh shows that the number of institutional deliveries might have fallen by as much as 40 per cent during the lockdown, according to Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India (PFI).

This means these women had to deliver their babies in home settings.

Figures regarding access to contraceptive facilities tell a similar story. An estimate by non-profit Foundation for Reproductive Health Services, India or FRISHI suggests that an estimated 25.63 million couples will be unable to access contraceptives in India due to the interruption in provision of reproductive health services resulting from the lockdown.

There will be a method wise loss of 693,290 sterilisations, 975,117 interauterine contraceptive devices, 23.08 million cycles of oral contraceptive pills, 926,871 emergency contraceptive pills and 405.96 million condoms, it says.

The provision of reproductive health services is pivotal not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies but also in maternal and child health welfare, Parul Katiyar, a fertility consultant, said.

Therefore, in this adverse scenario of the coronavirus crisis, on the occasion of World Population Day, efforts should be made to stabilise the population right from the block level, she added.

The lockdown has also made women more vulnerable to domestic violence and had also increased their work load. One PFI study has found that there was a significant increase in domestic violence at home.

One-fourth of adolescents in the study, mostly women, have report it. The National Commission of Women in India has also reported a surge in the reported cases of violence in the country.

Data from the National Commission for Women reveals that 1,259 out of 5,087 complaints during lockdown (April 2020 to July 8, 2020) were related to domestic violence.

Simultaneously, 51 per cent female adolescents in three states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan experienced an increase in workload during the countrywide lockdown, as compared to 23 per cent male adolescents.

Unicef released an estimate on May 6 which said that India was set to record the highest number of births in the nine months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization, with more than 20 million babies expected to be born in the country between March and December.

Down To Earth has also reported that around 10 per cent of single woman farmers and labourers had to skip meals during the lockdown.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.