Around the world, the coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating impact on health systems, economies and the lives, livelihood and wellbeing of all. The pandemic is a danger to all of us, but there are many groups of people who are in an especially vulnerable position or are highly exposed.
Women constitute the majority of the front liners who are exposed and face a direct risk of illness from COVID-19. Outside the health sector and the front liners, other women and girls face serious risks too. Those requiring sexual and reproductive health services may face anxiety about exposure to the virus while seeking care – or they may forgo care entirely. Others have lost access to care altogether due to movement restrictions.
But there is yet another source of risk: worryingly, extended lockdown has also increased the exposure of women to gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence and sexual violence.
Like the rest of the world, Mauritius has not been spared with reportedly 520 cases of domestic violence and 568 cases of violence on children recorded during the complete lockdown. This clearly shows once again that women and girls have been disproportionately affected, with sexual and reproductive health services being curtailed and gender-based violence on the rise.
In this context, it is crucial to assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis management measures and adapt responses to the protection of women and girls. The problem must be addressed on two fronts: i) prevention and ii) protection and prosecution. In terms of prevention, the "Brigade pour la Protection des Mineurs", which is part of the Police Family Protection Unit, has a key role to play as a watchdog against child abuse. In terms of protection and prosecution, the necessary laws and systems must be in force and enforced.
- We encourage sensitisation and awareness-raising on the challenges that have impeded on women and girls’ rights during the COVID-19 and the formulation by the professionals who are in direct contact with the reality of recommendations on how to reinforce human rights to make the society more resilient not only to this pandemic, but also to future shocks.
- We support the empowerment of the officers of “Brigade pour la Protection des Mineurs” who are engaged in the fight against sexual violence against children as well as other organisations whose mandate is to protect the rights of women and girls.
- We continue to advocate for the adoption of the Children's Bill, an important piece of legislation to protect children rights. We have provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Gender Equality for drafting the Bill. The text should soon be presented at the National Assembly. Once it is adopted, the legal provisions in the Children’s Bill will have to be fully adhered to for the safeguard of all children.
Addressing the 50 officers of “Brigade pour la Protection des Mineurs” gathered for the workshop entitled "Covid-19: Impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights" organised by the Mauritius Family Planning Welfare Association to mark World Population Day, the EU Ambassador said: "COVID-19 affects women and men differently. The pandemic makes existing inequalities for women and girls’ worse and risk impeding the realization of human rights for women and girls. The post-COVID response should ensure full access to sexual and reproductive health care information, services and goods for all women without discrimination, and with specific attention for women at risk or victims of gender-based violence and other vulnerable groups of women."
The workshop has been organised as part of the project "Addressing demographic challenges through safe motherhood and family planning for sustainable development” implemented by the Mauritius Family Welfare Association and funded by the European Union.
 This year’s theme chosen is “Putting the brakes on COVID-19: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now”.