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Women’s Refugee Commission Calls for Inclusive and Gender-Sensitive Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK, NY – Following the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), countries around the world are bracing for extremely high numbers of cases, a huge strain on health systems, and severe economic fallout. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 407,000 cases have been confirmed to date.

In an effort to address the COVID-19 crisis in humanitarian settings, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the United Nations system) is expected to launch a Global Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) tomorrow, which will analyze the direct public health and indirect immediate humanitarian consequences of the pandemic on the population in countries that are already facing other crises.

Ahead of the launch of the COVID-19 Global HRP, Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), issued the following statement:

“The COVID-19 virus is a test for our communities, our principles, and our compassion. Any response to the pandemic must put refugees’ human rights front and center, otherwise we risk the response being a death sentence for those most at risk, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and survivors of gender-based violence.

“For example, health responses must take special care to be aware of the most marginalized populations, such as women and girls with disabilities, who need accessible information and services, including sexual and reproductive health care. Collecting disaggregated data is critical to understanding who is being effectively reached, and where the gaps are now and in the future. Providing age-, gender-, and disability-sensitive responses is not a luxury, it is a matter of life and death.

“Public health measures must not result in the denial of the opportunity to seek asylum and must respect the principle of non-refoulement.

“We must directly fund local civil society organizations, including women’s rights organizations, which are often the first responders in any crisis. They have the knowledge and the networks of trust necessary to do this critical frontline work. During the Ebola crisis, for example, local women’s groups in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, played a crucial role in tackling the disease, and remained on the frontlines, long after international actors left.

“Now is the time to safeguard our values and human rights and, critically, ensure the safety and access to treatment of the most marginalized – displaced women, girls, persons with disabilities, and others who will be most impacted and have the fewest resources to cope.”