Sep 30, 2020

Love, Sex and Violence in the Time of COVID

But as a reproductive health advocate, I can’t help but think of all the women and young people who normally access our services and now cannot.

Earlier this week, following President Duterte’s address in which he placed the entire region of Luzon on enhanced community quarantine, we closed down our office and both of our clinics in Palawan. It was absolutely the right decision in the fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But it was a heartbreaking decision, nonetheless.

As an employer, the 28 other people I work with are a top priority, and I’m so relieved to know my colleagues are safe and that the organization will be able to keep supporting them throughout this ordeal.

But as a reproductive health advocate, I can’t help but think of all the women and young people who normally access our services and now cannot. In the signs we put up in our now-shuttered clinics, we directed people needing services to the City Health Office, or to pharmacies if they need to buy pills. I’m grateful to our dedicated and tireless colleagues at City Health who remain available to serve people, but also recognize that they are now some of the only people who can give services and they will need to prioritize those with the most urgent needs.

There are also restrictions in place to limit movements, including a ban on public transportation, so many people who need services may not have the ability to go out and try to access them.

COVID-19 has the ability to completely destroy our under-resourced health-system and I understand why containing the virus is the nation’s top priority now. But I want to raise the following issues so we are aware and so policymakers can bear these issues in mind as they make decisions in the coming weeks and months.

Here is a shortlist of COVID-19 implications on love, sex, and violence:

1. There will be unplanned pregnancies

As millions of people are now staying home with not much to do, there will be more sex. Some people will not be able to access their contraceptive refills when needed, and some may not have been on any contraception to begin with. We’ve made great strides in reducing the number of unintended pregnancies through contraceptive use, but a lack of access to these medicines will mean more unplanned pregnancies.

I saw a joke alluding to this online, and saying that the new generation of babies born 9 months from now will be called “Coronials”. It made me chuckle, but unintended pregnancies are no joke as they put strain on resources.

2. Reduced access to prenatal care

Women and girls that are currently pregnant or will shortly become pregnant, are not and will not be able to access prenatal care as easily. Our heroic colleagues at City Health are still providing prenatal checkups, but they have to limit these to once a week. I’m not sure if barangay health centers are still able to provide prenatal care, but do know that doctors and nurses have to be hyper-focused on COVID-response. Midwives may still be able to focus on pregnant women but government midwives are likely part of the intensified COVID-focused activities, and many women and girls cannot afford to pay for care with private midwives and obstetricians. A lack of prenatal care can lead to riskier pregnancies, will affect birth outcomes, and can lead to increased maternal deaths.

3. Domestic violence issues

It is a sad reality that many women and girls live with abusive partners. With everyone at home all day and increased amounts of stress, frustration and fear, it is likely that incidences of domestic violence will increase. With individuals on lock-down and directives to social distance, people suffering violence will not have some of the same options they may have had before to get out of their house and go elsewhere for safety.

4. Online sexual child exploitation issues

In recent years there has been a rise in online sexual exploitation of children as adults around them have profited from peddling online child pornography. Several organizations, as well as law enforcement, have tried to crack down on this. But with enforced quarantine, most organizations now have to work from home. Law enforcement are now tasked with staffing checkpoints and helping maintain law and order. With more people now always at home and on the internet, there is the chance that there will be increased incidences of child sexual exploitation.

5. Rise of sex work in the aftermath

In the aftermath of the coronavirus, when things start to normalize again, many people will find themselves in greater economic hardship than before. Enforced quarantine is wreaking havoc on the tourism industry and many small businesses won’t be able to afford to reopen, or retaining all their previous staff. As people, especially women, find themselves with fewer opportunities for income, more may resort to sex work. We see this again and again in the aftermath of disasters, and it is likely we will see this with COVID-19.

I understand that resources are currently limited and that the government and law enforcement has their hands full. But I hope our leaders and everyone in our community will keep these potential issues in mind, and put efforts and policies into place to try to address them and minimize their risk as much as is possible right now. Lives will depend on it.

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