Efforts of the United Nations to address the impact of the COVID pandemic on women

Mr. Qasim al-A’raji, National Security Adviser,
Dr. Muneer al-Saadi, President of the University of Baghdad
Distinguished Panelists,
Distinguished Guests and Civil Society Representatives,

Thank you for inviting the United Nations to address this seminar on the impact of the COVID pandemic on Iraqi women. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General issued a global message that “Today’s declaration of a pandemic is a call to action − for everyone, everywhere”. The United Nations began to focus specifically on the effects of COVID on women, which led the Secretary General to report subsequently that “the pandemic is exposing and exploiting inequalities of all kinds, including gender inequalities.” Unfortunately, that statement has a particular resonance here in Iraq, where women have borne many of the negative effects of COVID.

UNAMI and other United Nations entities in Iraq have undertaken, and continue to undertake, efforts to translate the UN Secretary-General’s call to action into improving outcomes for those at risk during this pandemic, which include survivors of domestic violence and members of minority groups. Many of these are women. Our efforts have aimed at strengthening the Iraqi government’s efforts to counter the effects of COVID; supporting civil society organizations working to create public awareness of the risks posed by the virus; promoting adherence to measures which can curb the spread of COVID; and calling attention to the particular impact of the pandemic on women.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to cite some specific examples of UN efforts to mitigate the impact of the COVID pandemic on women in Iraq. During an assessment last May, 65% of service providers for survivors of gender-based violence reported an increase in one or more types of violence against women, with 94% of those reporting a sharp increase in domestic violence, perpetrated by a spouse or other family member within the household. // In April 2020, UNAMI, UNICEF, UNFPA and UNWomen issued a joint statement urging the Iraqi Parliament to expedite passage of domestic violence legislation; calling for the establishment of shelters for at-risk groups; and reiterating the UN Secretary General’s call to governments to prioritise the protection of women and children as an integral element of their national COVID response.

UN bodies in Iraq developed six key messages on domestic violence and shared them through social media and text messaging with the public. In June, working closely with local NGOs, UNAMI developed 15 cartoons, shared on social media and printed on posters, as part of the COVID awareness raising campaign. Additional campaigns involved the distribution of 27,000 posters by volunteers, including policemen and children, at popular markets, doctors' clinics and security checkpoints. Murals in key locations in Baghdad, painted by Iraqi artists with UNAMI’s support, have continued to raise awareness on the human rights impact of COVID, including gender-based violence and other effects on women.

In May 2020, UNWomen issued a document, ‘A Gender Response to COVID-19 in Iraq: A Guidance Note on Actor Engagement’ with a set of recommendations for health, education and economic actors on how to mitigate the impact of COVID - and putting women at the heart of those responses. UNDP has trained 225 social workers from NGOs across 15 governorates to provide online psychosocial support for more than 18,000 isolated women and victims of violence. And it is estimated that women comprise nearly half of the 30 million people reached by a UN information campaign, “Let’s Beat Corona”, in over 5,000 neighborhoods, hospitals and public places throughout Iraq. An online campaign reached 2.7 million people of whom a quarter were women.

UNHCR has provided assistance, initially through remote mechanisms, to female internally displaced persons since early in the pandemic. Now service providers have resumed some activities such as case management, psychosocial support, awareness raising, women’s empowerment, health and legal support, as well as the regular provision of sanitary kits. Efforts have also been made through the mobilization of community outreach volunteers and mass information campaigns to provide information to vulnerable people, many of them women, on COVID prevention. UNHCR has served over 560,000 people in Iraq (refugees and IDPs) through COVID cash, multipurpose cash assistance, and winter cash assistance; again, many of them are women.

Last August, the UN developed a Social and Economic Response Plan to counter the pandemic. The plan offers an integrated support package to protect the needs and rights of people suffering under the pandemic, with a particular focus on the most vulnerable groups who risk being left behind, including women and girls.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to say, in conclusion: as we work together to mitigate the impact of COVID on women in Iraq, let’s also use the opportunity to work together to reduce gender inequalities for Iraqi women not just in this time of pandemic but in the longer term, too.

Thank you.


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