SEATTLE, Washington — Active conflict is a reality in the Arab world, but it is also a reality that women are fighting to end. On May 2020, more than 90 women’s organizations across the Arab world, from Iraq to Yemen, joined the U.N. in a statement calling for an immediate global ceasefire. The organizations called for parties in conflict to form a united front against the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring access to humanitarian and medical assistance to communities affected, the joint statement said. The region has experienced conflicts and wars that have drained resources and exhausted many communities. Moreover, women’s and girls’ suffering is substantially worse because they are more likely to be subjected to discrimination and violence, such as sexual assault, terrorism and trafficking.
Women’s Organizations in the Arab States Region Unite with the U.N.
Internal conflicts have destroyed infrastructure in the region, targeted health facilities and severed livelihoods, said the statement from women’s organizations across Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria and Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying the current situation in the region. If the virus were to spread, it would ravage the entire Arab States Region despite national, ethnic, religious and political differences.
The spread of COVID-19 will undoubtedly exacerbate the effects of the ongoing conflict, but the organizations argued how an increase in conflict would also erode social fabrics. The women’s organizations wrote that a ceasefire is the first and most essential move in the fight against COVID-19. They encouraged channeling money from wars to helping at-risk populations who suffered from years of armed conflict.
“Our drained countries do not need yet another call to fall on deaf ears. We have already missed many opportunities to usher in peace and unity,” the statement said. “If heeded, our call would not only allow our communities to finally have rest from senseless fighting but would also show us that we can still put our differences aside and silence our guns in the interest of our collective safety and security.”
To the 91 Arab women-led organizations, both men and women need to sit at a table and make peace a priority with a pandemic looming in the region.
COVID-19 in Conflict: How the Outbreak Further Complicates Women’s Lives
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the discrepancy between male and female confirmed COVID-19 cases is more extensive in countries where the IRC works. The average of male COVID-19 cases is 51%, a figure which appears higher in countries such as Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, where about 70% of all reported cases are male.
The IRC report states that less than 30% of COVID-19 cases are female in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Chad and the Central African Republic. In developed countries, such as the U.S. and Germany, the percentage of confirmed female cases is closer to 50%.
While testing is already limited in developing countries, the IRC believes this discrepancy may be linked to women’s lack of access to testing and health care services. Women already face gender discrimination and inequality, which transfer over to other sectors, such as education. With less access to the internet and information, they may unknowingly create misinformation and stigma surrounding the virus.
Moreover, women are also experiencing the pandemic’s economic impacts as many usually hold insecure jobs, according to an April U.N. report. About 740 million women worldwide work in the informal economy, many of which are also in charge of caring for children and their homes.
Due to the pandemic, many women are also forced to lockdown in their homes, which increases gender-based violence, such as domestic abuse. In just the last year, the U.N. found that more than 243 million women aged 15 to 49 have been sexually or physically abused by an intimate partner. Furthermore, the U.N. projects that the number will only increase throughout the pandemic, citing how reports of domestic violence have already increased in France, Cyprus, Spain, Argentina and the U.S.
How Arab Women Are Fighting for Women’s Rights
According to the U.N. Women’s Chief Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, women are essential to battling COVID-19 and are urging for peace and security. Arab women organizations, like the ones that signed the statement, are part of this push for change.
Kafa, with its name translating to “enough,” is a Lebanese nonprofit organization working to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence since 2005. The group has advocated for law reform, influenced public opinion, conducted research and empowered victims of violence. Kafa has also established a phone line for domestic violence victims in need of social, legal and psychological support.
Another nonprofit working toward gender inequality is CAWTAR, also known as the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research. This Tunisian-based organization focuses on research and advocacy related to gender equality. The group has projects around the region, from focusing on the economic empowerment of Palestinian women to improving healthcare and legal services in Yemen, Sudan and Tunisia.
In a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to amplify and support the voices of Arab women now more than ever, especially in a call for a global ceasefire.