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COPENHAGEN, 15 June 2020 – Governments should ensure that the gendered impacts of COVID-19 are prioritized in their responses to the crisis, participants said in a webinar organized by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly today. To prevent the pandemic from exacerbating inequalities among men and women and reversing many of the gains countries have made regarding gender equality, it was stressed that women must be equally represented in all COVID-19 response planning and decision-making.

Participants noted that policymakers should utilize women’s civil society organizations’ wealth of experience, which is important not only in the immediate response to COVID-19 but also to achieve gender equality in the long term. To address the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health, speakers said that attention must be paid to the needs of women health care workers, including through the provision of personal protective equipment and the continuation of standard health services for women.

The webinar included the participation of nearly 100 people including some 35 parliamentarians, as well as representatives of a number of OSCE institutions. It featured remarks from OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues Hedy Fry, OSCE PA President George Tsereteli, OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Inter-Parliamentary Union President Gabriela Cuevas Barron, and Françoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition.

Special Representative Fry presented her new report, “The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19,” which details the ways in which the pandemic is affecting issues including gender-based violence, economic security, access to women’s health services, the gender wage gap, women’s unpaid care work, as well as issues related to the women, peace and security agenda and women’s political leadership.

“The COVID-19 pandemic represents a significant threat to gender equality,” Fry said. “Not only does this pandemic threaten to stall progress towards gender equality, it could roll back many of the rights we’ve fought so hard to gain. However, I believe that OSCE participating States can tackle this enormous challenge: together throughout the OSCE region, and in our own countries, we can ensure that our responses to this pandemic incorporate the voices and perspectives of women from all different groups.”

IPU President Cuevas called attention to the problem of gender-based violence, noting that an average of 137 women across the world are killed by a partner or family member every day, and that parliaments can play a role in combating this trend through gender mainstreaming practices.

“A gender-sensitive parliament is one that ensures equal participation of men and women in the relevant oversight committees that are monitoring and guiding the state’s response to the crisis,” she said. “It is a parliament that ensures women’s voices are heard in the discussions that shape our emergency responses and policy priorities; one that requests sex disaggregated data and monitoring and requires prioritization of the prevention and response to gender-based violence.”

Director Gisladottir said that equal and meaningful participation of women and men in decision-making is essential for effective functioning of democratic institutions and policies. She regretted that there is a lack of women’s representation in decision-making at the political level, which can limit the inclusion of gender-sensitive perspectives in the COVID-19 recovery strategies, noting the role in this regard of parliamentarians. “National legislative bodies must ensure the effective oversight of governments’ response and transparency in adopting emergency legislation,” she said.

The COVID-19 crisis makes clear the urgent need to reconsider approaches to health care, said Girard, urging policies that improve access to critical services and empower women and girls to take greater control of their health care. “In addressing our current crisis, we must prioritize the rights of women, girls, and marginalized communities, and set ourselves on the path to an equal and just society,” she said.

In the discussion, OSCE parliamentarians stressed the urgency of addressing the gender aspects of COVID-19 and highlighted a number of important areas for governments and parliaments to focus on to ensure an effective response to the pandemic that takes into account the needs of women and girls.

Parliamentarians described the impacts seen in their countries and pointed to measures being taken by national legislatures. Attention must be paid to ensuring the representation of women in health care decisions, it was stressed, and support must be given to victims of gender-based violence, including by fully prosecuting the perpetrators. Providing financial assistance to families has also been effective in alleviating domestic violence, it was noted.

Monday’s webinar was the latest in a series of thematic Parliamentary Web Dialogues organized by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Previous webinars have been held on the economic fallout of the pandemic, maintaining democratic control during states of emergency, COVID’s impact on conflicts in the OSCE region, environmental aspects of the crisis, and protecting refugees and migrants during the pandemic.

For more on the OSCE PA’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, please click here.

To read Hedy Fry’s report, “The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19,” please click here.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is comprised of 323 parliamentarians from 57 countries spanning Europe, Central Asia and North America. The Assembly provides a forum for parliamentary diplomacy, monitors elections, and strengthens international co-operation to uphold commitments on political, security, economic, environmental and human rights issues.

Originally posted on the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s website here.