According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) the coronavirus pandemic could have grave consequences on women’s health – particularly their sexual and reproductive health.
Birth Control And Family Planning At Risk
The coronavirus outbreak has significantly restricted access to several consumer goods, with supply priority being given to that which comes under “essential goods”.
Sexual and reproductive healthcare tends to not be prioritised as “essential” during crises. This reallocation of priority is bound to hit women’s well-being the hardest.
Preventive measures taken globally against the virus involve closing of healthcare facilities, disrupted supply chains, and overtaxed health systems. The casualties of these preventive measures, unfortunately, are likely to include increased rates of pregnancies, adolescent pregnancies, mortality of mothers, and sexually transmitted diseases – particularly in low-income communities.
Women cannot travel to obtain proper reproductive healthcare during the lockdown. Even if they could, there is a severe lack in the availability of services and goods for reproductive health.
There are entire areas that have become “contraceptive deserts”, where the healthcare facilities do not offer a full range, or sometimes any, contraceptive services.
Women’s autonomy over their bodies and right to choose when and how they want to give birth, has been unstable and disputed to begin with. The pandemic has only layered more strain on these existing injustices and exacerbated them.
Difficulties In Accessing Abortions
Like with most other advancements in progress that have been brought to a screeching halt by the coronavirus, the pandemic is hugely disruptive to the ongoing fight for abortion rights.
Abortions are either contested, banned, or not considered “essential healthcare” almost globally. Hospital beds and medical resources are preserved for the medically necessary and urgent cases during the pandemic – which abortions are not considered to be.
The argument is that as they’re “elective”, they cannot be medically necessary. However, they undoubtedly are.
The lockdown is bound to spike up unintended pregnancies, pregnancies in unconducive or dangerous environments, and pregnancies with complications. Anomalies and harmful medical conditions during pregnancies can require access to immediate abortions.
Lack of access to them can lead to women attempting “self-managed” or at-home abortions, which if not done in a safe, educated and prescribed manner, is severely dangerous to the health and life of the mother.
A Drop In Women’s Mental Health
The pandemic can have disastrous effects on women’s mental health.
With global school closures, several girls, especially in low-income communities, are facing the risk of never returning to education. Demands and pressure on women at home have increased during quarantine. Domestic violence reports are at an all-time high. Women dominate healthcare roles as nurses, and are tending to and witnessing the deaths of a large number of patients.
The strain on women’s mental health due to all these factors is bound to be dangerously high.
Unplanned and unintended pregnancies are just another factor to add to this list of mentally disruptive situations. Experts have found substantial rises in depression in women who had unintended pregnancies.
Even a planned pregnancy during this turbulent period, with news reports of pregnant women being denied admissions in several hospitals, can cause severe anxiety.
Need For Balanced And Gendered Decision Making
The gross error made by the Indian government initially in failing to categorise menstrual products as “essential goods” highlights the lack of female-driven thinking and representation in governing bodies.
Previous epidemics have had disastrous consequences on women’s health and gender equality for years to come.
To avoid this, there is a need for a more balanced representation of women in governing health bodies and decision making. This could be an extremely positive step in ensuring that women and their needs are not forgotten or dismissed as inessential.
The coronavirus pandemic is inevitably going to cause catastrophic long-term problems and regression in many areas – women’s sexual and reproductive health need not be one.
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