Researcher, Research Center for Population – Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)
The emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic has raised many concerns about human rights issues, ranging from health, education, economic life to social life. Undeniably, during this pandemic, women suffered more than men from the exacerbated effects of this public health crisis, because they bear more responsibility either at home, in society or at work (World Economic Forum, 2020). For example, in some Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, cases of women and domestic violence are increasing.
According to a quick survey by the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, more than 110 acts of violence against women occurred between March and June 2020 (LBH Apik, 2020), while domestic violence cases in Malaysia have increased by about 57 per cent since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic (The Asean Post, 2020) and a similar trend has occurred in Thailand, where cases of domestic violence have more than doubled if we compared to year ago, from 85 to 183 cases (Heinrich Boll Stiftung, 2020)
In addition to domestic violence, according to Marques, Moraes, Hasselmann, Desalandes and Reichenheim (2020), women also experienced a difficult situation during the pandemic: women were caught up in a heavier workload and had to bear some disadvantages in caring for their children. This is exacerbated by restrictions such as ‘the lockdown’ which challenges women’s activities, such as not being able to enjoy “me time” or self- escapism.
In the pre-pandemic phase, women reportedly had three times more household chores than men, and this number increased during the pandemic (UN Women, 2020). When people often have time to stay at home, clashes and tensions between household members are inevitable, as all activities are now carried out at home, such as teaching children, cooking more food and cleaning the house. Sometimes, this makes women more stressful. A study by McLaren, Wong, Nguyen and Mahamadachchi (2020) mentioned that there is a “burden” attached to women and that they have enormous barriers to domestic / reproductive work, economic / productive work and the handling of public / collective work.
From this point of view, we need to analyze why the burden on women is particularly pronounced and how human rights frameworks can be useful in solving this problem. Discussions about women in South-East Asia during a pandemic and their role in the home and in the community are very complex. In Indonesia, the majority of women worked in vital sectors such as medical work (70 percent) and small industry (64 percent), and not only that women demand to do the housework after completing their work in the formal sector. These activities absorb their energy and pose a greater risk to their health (VOA Indonesia, 2020). Malaysian women are also on the same path, spending 64% more time than men with unpaid work before the pandemic, and now the situation is getting worse (The Star, 2020). While in Thailand, elder women are becoming the most vulnerable group of the pandemic. They could no longer afford their lives and because of the lower income of their children and no longer received support from the family such as health and financial support (Relief Web, 2020)
At this stage, we can convince the government to regulate an inclusive policy that meets human rights standards: firstly, to provide health care to women who have specific needs, such as providing women-friendly spaces for victims of violence and mental illness; secondly, to transform the injustice of unpaid work into a new economic policy that will apply to all, so that women are fully respected for their work; and finally by providing additional financial assistance or even food for elder women to ensure their food intake in the pandemic.
For women, life in the Covid 19 situation is difficult, because the problems have changed, not only poverty, the lack of a voice, but also beyond. Apart from the human rights approach to the issue, what women urgently need now is not a rhetorical statement. One of the most glaring results of the human rights approach, for example, is the “rhetoric of equality,” which has been controversial until now. When addressing the needs of women during a pandemic, each stakeholder must ensure that they play their role and not just talk about the norms or values of human rights. Leveraging the knowledge and skill of women, giving them access to women – friendly places, providing the opportunities in economic and allowing them in decision-making processes are much more real than just speak loudly about human rights but no action.
Heinrich Boll Stiftung Southeast Asia. July 2020. Thailand’s Silent Pandemic: Domestic Violence during COVID-19. Retrieved from https://th.boell.org/en/2020/07/01/covid-19-domestic-violence
LBH Apik. 2020. Kekerasan dalam rumah tangga meningkat selama pandemi. Retrieved from https://www.aa.com.tr/id/nasional/kekerasan-dalam-rumah-tangga-meningkat-selama-pandemi/1889108
Marques, Emanuele Souza, Moraes, Claudia Leite de, Hasselmann, Maria Helena, Deslandes, Suely Ferreira, & Reichenheim, Michael Eduardo. (2020). Violence against women, children, and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic: overview, contributing factors, and mitigating measures. Cadernos de Saúde Pública, 36(4), e00074420. Epub April 30, 2020. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0102-311×00074420
McLaren, H.J.; Wong, K.R.; Nguyen, K.N.; Mahamadachchi, K.N.D. Covid-19 and Women’s Triple Burden: Vignettes from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia. Soc. Sci. 2020, 9, 87.
Relief Web. 2020. Thailand Needs To Do More To Support Older People From The Impact of The Covid-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/report/thailand/thailand-needs-do-more-support-older-people-impact-covid-19-pandemic
The Asean Post. March 2020. Retrieved from https://theaseanpost.com/article/virus-lockdown-causing-rise-domestic-abuse
The Star Malaysia. 2020. Women, Girls More At Risk during Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/04/21/women-girls-more-at-risk-during-pandemic
UN Women. 2020. Ipsos survey confirms that Covid-19 is intensifying women’s workload at home. Retrieved from https://data.unwomen.org/features/ipsos-survey-confirms-covid-19-intensifying-womens-workload-home#:~:text=Before%20the%20pandemic%2C%20women%20were,domestic%20work%20as%20men%20globally.&text=Across%20the%2018%20countries%2C%20on,had%20increased%20during%20the%20pandemic
World Economic Forum. (2020). What the Covid-10 Pandemic Tells Us About Gender Equality. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/what-the-covid-19-pandemic-tells-us-about-gender-equality/
VOA Indonesia. 2020. Menlu: Diskriminasi terhadap Perempuan saat Pandemi Covid-19 Harus Dicegah. Retrieved from https://www.voaindonesia.com/a/menlu-diskriminasi-terhadap-perempuan-saat-pandemi-covid-19-harus-dicegah/5378879.html