The Anglican Communion is standing with religious leaders and faith-based actors – many of whom are working on the frontline of the novel coronavirus pandemic – as they advocate for urgent governmental action to protect women’s rights and achieve gender equality in COVID-19 responses.

Like all crises, the global C-19 pandemic does not operate in a social vacuum, says the Communion’s Gender Justice statement issued today, and as a result, the current crisis is already showing that health and economic crises due to COVID-19 are amplifying pre-existing gender inequalities. 

Around the world, gender roles have a marked impact on the exposure, transmission and outcome patterns of COVID-19. Women and girls are experiencing unjust levels of exposure to health risks of various kinds in political, social, domestic and economic spheres. 

Sexual and Gender Based Violence

In a statement published today, ‘Faith in Beijing’ – a collective of religious actors and faith-based networks – has called for COVID-19 responses that include strategies to recognise and prevent sexual and gender-based violence (GBV).

Under many governments’ compulsory lockdown policies, women are being forced to stay in homes where they are not safe or secure: living with abusive partners or parents, for example, while at the same time services for survivors of gender-based violence are harder to access.

In some communities around the world, violence against women during the pandemic has also been perpetrated by the security agencies using undue force in enforcing the legal limits on movement.

Faith on the Frontline

According to today’s statement, faith communities in many countries hold a strong base of public trust that enables them to promote physical distancing to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus, while also practicing social solidarity.

In some places faith institutions also hold higher levels of trust than governments, which means that they have the opportunity to play a vital role in distributing accurate public health information to their communities.

Religious leaders can also play a positive role in promoting messages of gender justice, challenging stigma and harmful gender norms in the context of pandemic.

Equality and Justice for All

As business as usual pauses, faith groups also have the opportunity to reflect upon our responses to the brokenness in our world and our economic system and take time to reimagine a world rooted in equality and justice for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how globally interconnected we are and in this time of crisis gender injustices have come into focus again as a widespread reality for huge numbers of women and children around the world. 

Among the many critical events and meetings halted by the global pandemic is the 64th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which the new Director for Gender Justice at the Anglican Communion Office, Mandy Marshall, and an international delegation of women representing the Anglican Communion were due to participate at in early March 2020.

While the international gathering of UN Member States and civil society was postponed last month, our Communion’s work for gender justice remains a strong priority around the world.

In detail: The Anglican Communion’s Gender justice call to factor in the rights of women in their COVID-19 responses follows below:

A Collective Call to Governments and Faith-based Organisations on COVID 19 response

1. We advocate that all responses involve faith actors, and ensure coordination and meaningful partnerships between faith, traditional and secular actors. Faith actors are key in reaching communities both with essential information, providing service to vulnerable groups and promoting behaviour change and challenging harmful norms, stereotypes and stigma.

2. We advocate for the adoption of gender just policies and funding of COVID-19 response plans that holistically address the pandemic, including the secondary impacts on education, health, economy and livelihoods.

3. We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic response requires resource mobilisation, and we urge our governments to continue to fund and resource their commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

4. The ‘domestic’ workforce, where women make up 70%, are more likely to be part of the frontline response. We advocate to our governments for coordinated responses that are sensitive to the needs of women and girls, where unpaid caregivers and community health workers are provided with adequate training, equipment, and livelihood support to respond effectively and keep themselves and their families safe.

5. We advocate for a holistic development agenda that addresses intersectional injustices, including universal health coverage and gender just health systems, equality in education, economic empowerment and freedom from exploitation, violence and discrimination. Governments must integrate a gender assessment to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, including economic impact, and how to address it effectively. Governments must plan and resource its response for the long term as the impacts will continue long after we have tackled the virus.

6. We advocate for governments, faith leaders and civil society to collaborate in designating safe spaces (physical and online) for women where they can report abuse without alerting perpetrators, e.g. in pharmacies or via digital platforms.

A Collective Call to Fellow Faith-Based Actors and Civil Society

7. We advocate that political, religious and community leaders speak out against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, and ensure that survivor-centred services for women are well resourced and functioning. Awareness campaigns should be continued, and tactics that include targeting men and boys at home should be integrated.

8. We encourage faith communities to support social solidarity through whatever means are available, and for those with additional resources to support connection and community among those most at-risk.

9. Faith-based actors are already important providers of education and psycho-social support. We advocate during this time, for practices to be adapted and resourced to ensure this work continues.

10. We advocate to faith-actors to promote values of love, dignity and justice in their work to tackle this pandemic. It is vital that a non-discriminatory approach is exercised in all aspects of the COVID-19 response.

11. We advocate that political and religious leaders adopt communication channels that reach people marginalized in our communities, particularly women and girls. Women and girls may have restricted access to information in times of crises, therefore, limited access to food distribution systems, health care or accessibility to protection services. We will not remain silent when gender inequalities are exacerbated as a result of this crisis.