The Arab Institute for Women

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Webinar: Gender and COVID-19

Collaborating with both the United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH) and ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality, the Arab Institute for Women held a webinar on gender and COVID-19 to strengthen regional discussions and networking among those interested and involved in the topic in the Middle-East and North Africa region. During the webinar, Key findings and elements of the gender and COVID-19 research agenda setting process were shared. For this reason, establishing research priorities that would lead to action is actually the main purpose of focusing on such matter. Indeed, the webinar was not void of highlighting the different findings and the empirical data that showcase the magnitude of the impact of COVID-19 on women and the necessity to act accordingly.

It appears that COVID-19 further deepened gender inequalities, which is evident by the correlation between gender and global health for example. The expert Dr. Michelle Rimme, who leads the research at the UNU-IIGH in Malaysia, mentioned that there was a self-evident impact of biological sex and socially constructed gender on “differences and COVID-19 outcomes with higher rates of severe disease and deaths among men”.  At the same time, women have been bestowed the highest burden of having to attend to indirect social, economic and health consequences, which further increases inequalities between men and women.

More specifically, Lebanese women have experienced insurmountable challenges in trying to balance between their professional life and their home duties as a result of the imposed lockdown during the Spring of 2020. The Gender Studies Research Specialist at The AiW, Ms. Jana Mourad and the director of the Title IX Office at LAU, Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, jointly conducted a study to understand the impact of the lockdown on women. They have found that women faced significant unexpected challenges in trying to balance between their professional and personal lives. Even though their sample reflected the affluent segment of society, the odds still seemed to be stacking up against these women, which might be even worse if the sample reflected another segment.

COVID-19 has also led to a dramatic increase in the amount of Gender-Based Violence as a result of the lockdown in Lebanon, which highlights another sad truth about not being able to “stay safe” at home. Mr. Anthony Keedi from ABAAD highlighted the absence of laws that protected women in their homes, which is ideally where people are advised to stay to protect themselves from the spread of the virus. ABAAD’s “It’s a lockdown, not a lockup” campaign slogan that emerged towards the beginning of the spring lockdown beautifully encapsulates the sad reality of the women who are unable to report the violence they experience at home in just a few words. In a sense, ABAAD is not only trying to spread awareness for people to realize the magnitude of the issue but is also trying to push for the amendments of certain Lebanese laws so that women are well protected in their homes.

The GBV Technical Officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, Cairo, Egypt, Ms. Anna Ronzoni further highlighted how the unfortunate reality of gender-based violence that experts and concerned persons are aware of has been amplified as a result of COVID-19. Her illustration of such amplification was showcased in two ways: a) during emergencies, Gender-based Violence tends to increase and B) the increase exposes the unfortunate fact that there are no systems that address it. As such, a gender lens should be adopted in dealing with such unfortunate truths to mitigate the extent of the impact of such emergencies.

In short, much must be done in order to tackle gender inequality in a variety of spheres, which is why discussions and conversations, such as this one, remain relevant. The road to achieving gender equality is not easy to navigate, but with the unrestrained and collective effort by both men, women and experts in the field, many victories can be achieved.

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