Poor mental health, disruptions to education, loss of income and violence, are some of the worrying consequences of COVID-19, according to women and young people across different contexts and regions. These are the key experiences documented in the Finding Hope: Lived experiences of women, children and adolescents, in their own words , an online project by leading civil society groups brought together by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH)- a multi-constituency partnership hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The key findings of the study Finding Hope reported strikingly similar experiences of women and adolescents in India, and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean with stress and anxiety rooted in disruptions to daily activities, education and work, as well as restrictions on mobility and social interaction.
Leading civil society groups, including Amref Health Africa; the Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3); the Graça Machel Trust; International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region (IPPFWHR); and Profamilia (Colombia) used surveys, interviews, social media and webinars to gain insights into the experiences of more than 30,000 women and young people. The partners came together with the PMNCH, the world’s largest alliance for the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents, in an online project entitled Finding Hope: Lived experiences of women, children and adolescents, in their own words. The information of the study Finding Hope was used to inform countries for their respective programme responses to COVID-19.
The Surveys strongly recommend that post-COVID economic rebuilding needs to be gender transformative and inclusive. “The work of partner organizations, synthesized in Finding Hope, give women and young people the opportunity to share their experiences. This is important not only in itself but also to inform advocacy efforts for effective policy and program measures to address the immediate and long-term impacts of the crisis on women and young people,” recommends Helga Fogstad, Executive Director of Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH).
The Global Survey- ‘Finding Hope’ found that across the world, COVID-19 hit first and hardest among the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized communities in every survey region including India. They found that women and young people are carrying a heavy burden during the pandemic, exacerbating existing forms of bias and discrimination. Out of 30,000 global respondents, nearly all 5671 respondents from the nine states of India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, New Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu) revealed that they faced hardships in terms of their lives and livelihoods.
‘Finding Hope’ shows that food insecurity, loss of livelihoods, lack of access to health services, mental health issues, and increased violence among others were the main concerns in India. And experts and health leaders have called for focused action by all stakeholders including the government to address these critical issues. “We believe that it is imperative that we un-package the complex implications of COVID-19 on women and girls. We need to listen to these narratives and help amplify the lived realities so that when we strategize to re-build, we put women and girls in the centre,” says Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change (3C) – one of five PMNCH partner organizations for the ‘Finding Hope’ Survey. 3C phase-wise India specific survey is titled – ‘Lived Realities: Impact of COVID-19 on the Wellbeing of Adolescent Girls and Women in India”.
In five Indian states, 75 per cent of women respondents said that an earning member of their family had lost their livelihood during the lockdown last year. Food insecurity due to financial constraints and limited availability of essential food items was reported as significant concern by the Indian families. In nine states, many families reported being forced to reduce the quantity and variety of their food to cope with job losses, food shortages and decreased financial resources, the Survey says.
The Survey points out that women and adolescent girls from nine Indian states also reported increased verbal and sexual abuse since the start of lockdown – the reopening of liquor shops was cited as a contributory factor. Moreover, Indian women, whose husbands had previously been working away from home, but had returned as a result of lockdowns or job losses, were reporting having to cede authority to them as head of the household – in other cases, women who continued to work whilst their partner had lost their job thought their unemployed partner resented them.
Globally limited access to health services and loss of livelihoods was among the major challenges women and adolescents face during the COVID-19 crisis. Early in the pandemic, concerns were raised that up to half of all workers worldwide were in danger of losing their livelihoods – for people living in countries with few or no social protections, loss of livelihood means no income, which in turn means no food, no security and limited access to services.
Like in five Indian states, in Latin American country Colombia, an online survey of more than 1200 people aged 18-29 found that 23% of women and almost 21% of men had lost their jobs during the pandemic. Workers in the informal economy are estimated to have lost 60% of their earnings during the first month of the pandemic – the incomes of such workers are projected to fall by 81% in Africa, 70% in Europe and Central Asia and 21.6% in Asia and the Pacific. In Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda, many female street vendors reported being unable to work because they could not acquire permits or meet registration requirements during the lockdown. Another pain point was access to health services. In India, for example, frontline workers reported that all immunization services were suspended in early April 2020, except for certain vaccinations for babies delivered in health facilities.