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11 July World Population Day - Putting the breaks on COVID-19: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now

11 July 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has taken a staggering toll on people, communities and economies everywhere. But not everyone is affected equally. Women, who account for the largest share of front-line health workers, for example, are disproportionately exposed to the coronavirus. Supply chains around the world are being disrupted, impacting the availability of contraceptives and heightening the risk of unintended pregnancy. As countries are on lockdown and health systems struggle to cope, sexual and reproductive health services are being sidelined and gender-based violence is on the rise.

Recent UNFPA research highlighted that if the lockdown continues for 6 months with major disruptions to health services, then 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives resulting in 7 million unintended pregnancies. 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can also be expected. The disruption of UNFPA’s programmes on the ground could result in 2 million cases of female genital mutilation and 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030 that could have been averted.

Moreover, women disproportionately work in insecure labour markets and are harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Nearly 60 percent of women worldwide work in the informal economy, at greater risk of falling into poverty. Women’s unpaid care work has increased as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.

The pandemic is hitting marginalized communities particularly hard, deepening inequalities and threatening to set us back in our efforts to leave no one behind. Our response to COVID-19 in every country is critical and will determine how fast the world recovers and whether we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or not.

On 11 July, World Population Day, we raise awareness about the sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the pandemic, to highlight how we can safeguard hardfought gains and ensure that SRHR stays on the local agenda, and to explore how to maintain the momentum towards achieving the SDGs by 2030 that we rallied at the Nairobi Summit.