We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Mon 14 Sep 2020 09:21 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

How coronavirus has impacted the lives of women in the Arab world

The Covid-19 virus might not discriminate but, as Moez Doraid, director of the coordination division at UN Women, says, the social and economic impact of the lockdown certainly have - particularly in the Arab world

How coronavirus has impacted the lives of women in the Arab world

Dr. Moez Doraid, regional director a.i. at UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States.

With more than 25 million infected and 852,000 dead globally, there is no doubt that the coronavirus is a generation-defining event. From visitor-centric industries such as hospitality, tourism and entertainment to essential community services like education and healthcare, few areas of modern life have not been devastated by the pandemic.

However, its impact has been far from uniform, particularly when it comes to gender. Whereas research has shown that women were less likely to suffer from health complications than men if they catch coronavirus, they are much more likely to bear a social brunt, especially when it comes to the labour market, domestic violence and unpaid work – whether that’s domestic work, childcare or looking after elderly relatives.

According to US based consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, “women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses to date”. The main reason behind this, according to the paper, is that women are shouldering the majority of unpaid work, which has increased with school closures and healthcare sector challenges. This invariably ends up effecting women’s job performance.

Women are also overrepresented in the industry sectors that have suffered the most under coronavirus, such as retail, hospitality and food services in which women hold 54 percent of the global jobs. With those sectors slowing down because of lockdown measures, women are inevitably impacted more than men.

Another way coronavirus has negatively impacted women is in the increase of gender-based domestic violence, which a policy brief by UN Women indicates has increased by 25 percent in countries with reporting systems in place. This is likely due to “crowded homes, substance abuse, limited access to services and reduced peer support exacerbating pre-existing conditions.”

Women in the Arab world are suffering under largely the same impacts of the pandemic that their global peers are, but with more regional-specific nuances. To shed more light on the impacts of coronavirus on women in the Arab region, Arabian Business talked to the regional director of the coordination division of UN Women, Moez Doraid.

AB: What are the key objectives for UN Women in the Arab states for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021?

Moez Doraid: One of the UN Women’s key objectives in the Arab states is to end discrimination against women. This manifests itself in three areas. The first is to end violence against women such as domestic violence and also gender-based violence in areas of conflict and crises. The second area is to empower women economically through jobs, earning incomes and sustainable livelihood. The third is to increase women’s economic participation with the goal of having more women in parliament and leadership positions.

Generally, violence against women, according to our data, is slightly higher in Arab countries compared to other regions.

For 2021, of course the pandemic will be shaping our objectives because we want to build better for women. The recovery plan should include gender and economic responsibility and also ensure that we overcome this gender-based violence which heightened in the pandemic because of the lockdown.

AB: What, in your view, are the biggest challenges faced by women during the Covid-19 pandemic – both regionally and globally?

MD: We are facing a worsening of existing inequalities and discrimination against women in several areas. The first is in domestic violence and gender-based violence. Across the world, including in Arab countries, there has been a rise in domestic violence against women.

AB: Is it more pronounced in Arab countries as compared to other parts of the world?

MD: Generally, violence against women, according to our data, is slightly higher in Arab countries compared to other regions. The estimate before the pandemic was that about 37 percent of Arab women suffer from and are victims of domestic violence at least once in their lifetimes. This compares to about 33 percent for the world average. The pandemic has worsened this situation and we have observed that from hotline services across the Arab world in places such as Lebanon, Egypt and Tunisia.

AB: What are the other challenging areas you were mentioning?

MD: The second one is economic empowerment. According to United Nations data, during the pandemic an estimated 1.7 million jobs in the Arab region were lost, 700,000 of which are provided by women.

A third area which we are focusing on both currently and in the coming year is protection against the pandemic. During the pandemic we have helped distribute and provided personal protection equipment in many Arab countries. This is noteworthy because across the world, including in the Arab countries, women constitute around 70 percent of workers in the healthcare sector. In countries like Egypt, women constitute 90 percent of the nurses. In Lebanon, 80 percent of the total Lebanese nursing staff are women so this protection issue is important.

And the last area to touch upon now is that of unpaid work. We are working with other non-governmental agencies and donors and other partners to ensure men take up responsibility in terms of household work, childcare and looking after the elderly. Currently, in the Arab region, we have one of the highest imbalances between the share of unpaid work provided by women and men. Here, women work nearly five times more than men in these roles.

AB: What has UN Women been doing to tackle this issue across the Arab region?

MD: We have media campaigns in which we’ve partnered with media outlets such as your magazine to raise awareness on changing traditional stereotypes. We also aim to facilitate women’s participation in the labour market by, for example, providing supporting services such as day-care. You know, the interesting thing is that the pandemic offered some support for this issue because women increased the time they spend on such unpaid work but at the same time men have also increased the time they spend on unpaid work. So we have to sustain this improvement in the time men spend on unpaid work.

AB: In terms of schooling, do you think girls in the Arab region were more disadvantaged than boys when it came to digital learning and education during the pandemic?

MD: In the Arab region, like in many other countries, women and girls are disadvantaged in the school system with many societal preferences given to the boy with respect to school enrolment. While we do not have exact data to answer your question, there is definitely the phenomenon of girls being disadvantaged during the remote-learning academic year in, for example, their access to equipment or online access.

AB: Some people would find it unusual, or maybe even inappropriate, that a man is in charge of UN Women. How would you answer that and what is the value that you have brought to this role?

MD: Well, UN Women walks the walk, and applies what it preaches so there are no gender discriminations in our jobs. What made UN Women appoint me to this job is my experience and expertise in working for 30 years across the UN system in development, poverty reduction and human rights. That has given me the experience and the expertise which I bring to the job, not my gender.

AB: Based on your experience in the UN, why do you think it is indispensable and how can it adopt to the challenges of today and tomorrow?

MD: You know, if the UN did not exist, the world would have had to create a UN. Dag Hammarskjöld, one of the UN’s early secretary generals who was killed in the service of the United Nations, said UN was established not to take humanity to heaven but to save it from hell. We see indicators of that across the world.

For 2021, of course the pandemic will be shaping our objectives because we want to build better for women. The recovery plan should include gender and economic responsibility and also ensure that we overcome this gender-based violence which heightened in the pandemic because of the lockdown.

In the Arab region, for example, the UN leads and coordinates the world humanitarian response to all of its worst conflicts that are taking place in countries like Yemen and Syria. In Yemen, the UN system provides lifesaving food and services to about 14 million Yemenis, the largest humanitarian response and food provision in the world. Of course, UN Women is active in this regard ensuring that women and girls receive their rightful and equal share.

In Syria, the UN system is also very active whether in trying to negotiate with the warring parties or developing humanitarian responses. We have succeeded, as UN Women, in supporting Syrian women and Syrian parties in these negotiations to ensure that 30 percent of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is composed of women. This is because we know, from our analysis, that peace treaties which have women engagement live longer and are more successful. Yet, only 26.8 percent of the peace negotiations in the Arab world have women participation in them.

AB: In October, UN Women is supporting the Arab Woman Awards. Why did you feel this was important to you?

MD: It is because recognition and credit are due. Through acknowledging successes in advancing women’s rights by acknowledging accomplishments and achievements of women, we publicise success stories that can be replicated by the multitude of empowered ingenious women and girls.

The Arab Woman Awards will take place on Thursday, October 15, under the patronage of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

Real news, real analysis and real insight have real value – especially at a time like this. Unlimited access ArabianBusiness.com can be unlocked for as little as $4.75 per month. Click here for more details.