A recent hearing at the United Nations Human Rights Council illuminated the impact of COVID-19 and general global health emergencies on women and girls in impoverished communities, calling for increased aid for women and girls by the U.N.
How COVID-19 Impacts Women and Girls
The U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, made a statement to the U.N. Council for Human Rights on the consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic for women and girls stating, “experience demonstrates that insecurity and displacement fuel increases in sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations.”
Testimonies like those shared by the U.N. News Podcast The Lid is On elaborate on the implications of COVID-19. One episode features a Ugandan activist named Zahara who reports that, in addition to increased rates of violence, rural women are currently suffering limited access to education, medical care and community support due to the pandemic.
The Deputy High Commissioner stresses that the situation for many women in poor communities is already critical. She notes that high rates of teen pregnancy, inadequate access to education and high rates of sexual violence in countries like Myanmar and South Sudan have only been exacerbated by the global COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, Al-Nashif called for greater legislation to provide judicial protection and increased aid for women and girls in vulnerable circumstances now and in the future.
Supporting Women through US Legislation
Like Al-Nashif, many members of Congress are pushing for increased aid for women and girls abroad. In addition to legislation providing international COVID-19 relief, bills are aiming to create long-term solutions to the challenges faced by women and girls. For instance, the Keeping Girls in School Act — recently passed in the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate — would permit USAID to allocate funds specifically to confront “societal, cultural, health, and other barriers” that prevent girls from receiving a quality secondary education in foreign countries.
Similarly, the Girls’ Leadership, Engagement, Agency, and Development Act (Girls’ LEAD Act) — introduced in the Senate in October 2019 —seeks to create opportunities to gain experience in leadership and government through USAID. By expanding programs and aid for girls abroad, supporters of the bill hope to cultivate communities where women in leadership lift women and girls from positions of vulnerability to voices for societal change.
The U.N. has made it clear that women and girls in impoverished communities around the world suffer disproportionately during emergencies like the current COVID-19 outbreak. As such, international organizations firmly believe that increased foreign aid is critical. Legislation like the Keeping Girls in School Act and the Girls’ LEAD Act would support long-term assistance to prevent women and girls abroad from these vulnerabilities not just in times of crisis, but in everyday life.
– Courtney Bergsieker