The coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected women’s rights and lives worldwide. Social and psychological burdens have increased since the onset of the crisis, through the social, health and family roles that women play, as well as their important role in the front lines of the fight against the pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization, 70 percent of health and social-care workers are women. The International Labor Organization reported that women and girls perform most of the care work, and the vast majority of teachers and service workers are female.
In Egypt, the leadership took a series of serious measures to fight the pandemic and paid close attention to the groups affected by these measures, especially women. In this context, this article tackles the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Egyptian women, and Egypt’s efforts to protect women.
The impact of the coronavirus on women
The most prominent repercussions of the coronavirus on women can be summarized as follows:
Increasing rates of domestic violence against women: The results of a survey conducted by the National Council for Women, in collaboration with the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) and UN Women Egypt, on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on women showed an increase in the rate of violence against Egyptian women by husbands since the onset of the crisis. The survey indicated that family problems increased by 33 percent, and about seven percent of wives were subjected to violence by husbands (beating or insulting).
Monitoring complaint reports about women who were subjected to violence during the quarantine, released by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, revealed a marked increase in the number of official reports of domestic violence received by the center during the first wave of the outbreak from March to July 2020, which accounted for 43 percent of the total 1,146 reports, with more than 70 percent of the reports filed by women.
Women working in the healthcare sector, doctors and nursing staff, are exposed to the risk of infection. In addition, they are pressured as they attempt to balance their paid work with other unpaid tasks that they have to undertake.
According to “Monitoring policies and programs responsive to women’s needs during the coronavirus pandemic”, released by the National Council for Women from 14 March to 6 April 2020, women make up 42.4 percent of doctors, 91.1 percent of the nursing staff working for the Ministry of Health, and 73.1 percent of the nursing staff in hospitals and treatment facilities in the private sector.
The provision of family planning and contraceptive services is hampered due to the coronavirus crisis. This may lead to high fertility rates which have subsequent economic and social impacts on families, individuals and communities, and which impede women from meeting their health needs and reduce their work and education opportunities.
It may also lead to the unavailability of reproductive health-care goods and services. Another impact is pregnant women being at risk of infection, as they are most likely to visit healthcare institutions to obtain prenatal and obstetric care.
Women’s participation in economic activities is threatened, especially in the informal sectors, and gender gaps in making a living are likely to increase. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 18.1 percent of women are the breadwinners in the family.
According to the report of the National Council for Women, 40.9 percent of women working in non-agriculture jobs have informal jobs, 33.9 percent of women have fragile jobs, 6.7 percent are employed in manufacturing, 36.4 percent of women work in agriculture, and 56.8 percent of working women are employed in the service sector.
Egyptian women represent 70 percent of the labor force in the paid care sector (especially teachers, female health workers and social workers). Moreover, Egypt’s paid-for care sector accounts for 28-31 percent of total female employment. Women are four times more likely to work in the paid care sector than men.
Efforts to protect Egyptian women from the impact of the pandemic
Since the onset of the crisis, the Egyptian government has initiated measures and made vigorous efforts to protect the potentially affected groups, including women whose needs have been integrated into all stages of decision-making measures needed to contain the crisis.
To ensure that all forms of protection are provided to Egyptian women, the government has adopted a series of policies and measures that fulfil the needs of women, including:
On 16 March 2020, the prime minister issued Decree 719/2020, which dictated reducing the number of employees and workers in government institutions as a precautionary measure, and granting pregnant women and women with one child or more under the age of 12 extraordinary vacation during the period of this decision.
This decision allowed all mothers to carry out their family duties without losing their jobs. The decision also allowed mothers of children with disabilities to care for their children without losing their jobs by granting leave to working women who are caring for a child with special needs.
The Ministry of Health and Population facilitated access to women’s reproductive health services, announcing a series of measures for the three-month dispensing of medicines for chronic diseases, children’s milk, and family planning, and launching two hotlines of psychological support for citizens at home during the quarantine.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity intensified its efforts to protect elderly and disabled women living in reformatories, penal institutions, orphanages, nursing homes, social protection institutions and persons with disabilities institutions, while preparing for potential violence against women through women’s hospitality centers.
On 22 March 2020, the Ministry of Social Solidarity announced a monthly increase in revenues of rural women from 350 EGP to 900 EGP per month, including women aged 65 years and above who do not live in nursing homes.
In addition, the number of beneficiaries of soft and low-interest loans to make micro-projects to improve the standard of living of the family has increased, and the numbers benefiting from conditional cash support for Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) program have increased to 100,000 families, providing social protection, especially for women breadwinners.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a series of decisions to provide economic support to health-care providers, which, of course, benefit women, including:
Exceptional rewards were paid from the Long Live Egypt (Tahya Misr) Fund for all workers currently in isolation, fever and chest hospitals and central laboratories.
Increasing medical allowance by 75 percent and establishing a risk fund for medical professionals.
Guidance to increase health sector support and improve the financial conditions of employees, doctors and nursing staff by raising interns’ reward to EGP 2,200 per month instead of 400 EGP for medical college graduates of December 2019.
The UN lauds Egypt’s efforts to protect women during the pandemic
The UN and UNDP report on measures taken by world countries to support women during the coronavirus pandemic confirmed that Egypt tops the list of Middle Eastern countries that took serious measures to protect women during the pandemic.
The report monitored 21 measures adopted by Egypt, taking into account gender considerations, including seven aimed at providing economic protection for women, three addressing unpaid care work and 11 dealing with violence against women.
According to the UNDP report, the Ministry of Social Solidarity plans to add 60,000 families to the Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) program for cash transfers, thus increasing its budget from EGP 18.5 billion to EGP 19.3 billion, with a view to reaching a total of 3.6 million families by 2021 with about 16 million beneficiaries.
These programs are mainly directed to the benefit of women breadwinners, where about 200,000 families (about one million beneficiaries) will receive cash payments of EGP 450-500 for three months.
In addition to the potential in-kind benefits, priority is given to the elderly, orphans, persons with disabilities and women-headed families. In this regard, the Long Live Egypt Fund, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the Ministry of Local Development, will direct in-kind support in the form of food and poultry to widows, housewives, the elderly and persons with disabilities.
The report also referred to Egypt’s efforts to support the employment and participation of women in the labor market, as it mentioned the efforts of Egypt’s Social Fund for Development, which allocated a financial portfolio of EGP 5.4 billion to finance women’s projects, especially in border and Upper Egypt governorates.
Some 216,000 small projects are expected to be implemented over five years, and 250,000 jobs and projects will be funded through banks and civil society organizations that cooperate with Egypt’s Social Fund for Development. The report also referred to the educational programs launched by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology for women to qualify them for the labor market.
The report praised the wide-ranging measures Egypt adopts to prevent violence against women during the pandemic in consultation with the United Nations, the United Nations Population Fund, the World Bank, and other entities.
The National Council for Women issued a policy paper entitled “Egypt’s rapid response to the situation of women during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic”. In addition, the UN consensually adopted an unprecedented Egyptian draft resolution on “protecting the rights of women and girls from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic” during the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on Human Rights, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural issues.
The resolution highlights the needs of women and girls during the pandemic, addresses the impact of the pandemic on women’s economic and social rights, stresses the importance of eliminating violence against women, ensuring that women have all their necessary health and social needs, and their continued participation in the preparation of national and international plans to address the pandemic.
In conclusion, Egypt has worked to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and reduce its negative effects on all groups, especially women, who are among the most affected groups, through a series of preventive measures and decisions that have received international praise for Egypt’s efforts to protect women from the impact of the pandemic.