EMERGING CHALLENGES/Global Health Security – April 2020
Why Coronavirus is a gender-related issue in international security
Pandemics and epidemics are not gender-neutral. They affect women and men differently on the social, economic and cultural perspectives. This is particularly true in contexts affected by security crises. Yet, COVID-19 has been a global test case to mark trends of the impacts of health risks on women and to analyse which steps have to be done to guarantee protection, equal participation and feminine leadership as part of the responses in fragile settings.
In countries where health systems are already overwhelmed or non-existent, women mortality – mostly because of pregnancy or childbirth complications – can even double [UN Secretary-General’s policy brief: The impact of COVID-19 on women, UN Women, 9 April 2020]. In addition, almost 80% of the workforce in health systems is constituted by women who are obviously more exposed to the pathogen. This already happened during the Ebola outbreak, between 2014 and 2016, in West Africa. There, the cases of Ebola among women were mainly due to the fact that they were primarily responsible for caring the sick and for funeral practices.
Meanwhile, in certain cultures women are not allowed to access education. They lack the possibility to gather critical information and to learn using technologies that could be essential in understanding the good practices to minimize the risks of the pandemic.
Furthermore, limitation of movements could increase sexual and gender-based violence, making human rights achievements regress for years. The isolation means also limiting the action of women’s civil society organisations to operate and to advocate women’s rights of assembly and freedom of expression.
It is important to remind that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) on Women, Peace and Security (https://bit.ly/2z10qRV). This document constitutes a turning point in international security, because it acknowledges that women need to be actively included in political participation and in the efforts of reconstruction after conditions of security instability.
NATO itself committed in November 2010, at the Lisbon Summit, to implement UNSCR 1325, and four years later, at the Wales Summit, recognised that integrating gender perspectives throughout the Alliance’s three core tasks, collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security, would make NATO more effective in projecting security [NATO Topics: Women, Peace and Security, https://bit.ly/2StqQ5K].
The implementation of the agenda is essential because it provides policy planners and crisis management operators a useful conflict preventing and post-conflict rehabilitation tool. The post-COVID-19 phase is not just a health recovery phase, but it could evolve into a severe recession fuelling or re-fuelling further conflicts if political prevention fails, also due to the lack of a concrete and effective gender perspective.
Federica Lollo – Programme Manager at the NATO Defense College Foundation since 2016. She is specialising in Global Health and the impacts on international security. She is also attending the Mentoring Programme of Women In International Security Italy.