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World Population Day: safeguarding the health and rights of the most vulnerable women and girls, even during COVID-19

11 July 2020, NUR-SULTAN – To date the COVID-19 pandemic has affected directly at least 12 million people, with over half a million dead. But the full toll of this crisis has been incalculably greater, with health systems and economies overwhelmed by the pandemic. Before the crisis, one woman out of every three had experienced physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. Now, with countries on lockdown and household tensions heightened, gender-based violence is on the rise, and sexual and reproductive health services are being sidelined by health systems struggling to cope with COVID-19.

“The impact of COVID-19 will likely to hamper global efforts to achieve three ‘zeros’ at the heart of our work at UNFPA – zero unmet need for contraception, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls – by 2030”, said UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.   “UNFPA projects, for example, that the pandemic will cut global progress towards ending gender-based violence within this decade by at least one third. Moreover, if mobility restrictions continue for at least 6 months with major disruptions to health services, 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries may be deprived of modem contraceptives, resulting in 7 million unintended pregnancies while there could be 31 million additional cases of GBV.”

To assist pregnant women and mothers with newborns, UNFPA partnered with the National Public Health Centre under Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Health to develop and disseminate much needed information about ways to minimize risks of contracting COVID-19 and protect one’s child.

“While the pandemic sweeps the world, women continue to get pregnant and give birth. On World Population Day, it’s time to reaffirm and act on our collective resolve to secure reproductive health and rights for all. To provide support to mothers and newborns, jointly with the Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan we conducted webinars on infection control in obstetric care facilities and on antenatal care for pregnant women during COVID-19,” said UNFPA Representative for Kazakhstan Giulia Vallese.

The pandemic is affecting women and men differently. In Kazakhstan, one of the hotlines set up for victims of domestic violence reported a 50% increase in the calls in the first half of April alone as compared to February 2020. A step-by-step guide with essential information, including telephone numbers of crisis centres and shelters around the country is being offered to women and girls in need of such information.

People with disabilities are at an even higher risk. According to Population Situation Analysis 2019, about half of the people with disabilities in Kazakhstan had experienced various types of violence in their families, regardless of gender and age. A follow-up Rapid Assessment during COVID-19 revealed that 38% of those surveyed reported that their relationships with family members had deteriorated during the lockdown.

In partnership with the National Commission and “Shyrak” Association of Women with Disabilities UNFPA developed a set of videos with information on how to protect oneself from coronavirus, what to do when leaving or coming back home, how to protect most vulnerable and what to do when faced with violence. Furthermore, 1,500 protective face shields have been provided to Kazakhstan’s professional sign language interpreters and those involved in facilitating easier access to information and services for people with disabilities during the pandemic.

This year UNFPA marks World Population Day in Kazakhstan by the presentation of the “We, Kazakhstan” Population Situation Analysis of Kazakhstan. In partnership with the Steppe website we are launching a series of in-depth interviews with Kazakhstan’s experts sharing their opinions on the country’s achievements, opportunities and challenges on topics such as the changing trends in family life, demographic shift and ageing, sustainable development of human capital, gender equality and violence against women, also reflecting on how the current pandemic is impacting people's lives, especially the most vulnerable.

“The most valuable form of capital to any country is its people. Demographic analysis and knowledge of the country’s population by age, gender, education, profession, economic activity, and other characteristics is a prerequisite for making effective state decisions. We hope that the report will offer more insight into opportunities and challenges in Kazakhstan, especially when the whole world is faced with the pandemic,” said Giulia Vallese.

The first video (in Russian) will be shared on the Steppe’s Facebook and Instagram channels at 11:00 on 11 July and separate expert interviews will be released the following week on the 14, 16,18, 20 and 22 at the same time (11:00). Videos with Kazakh and English subtitled will be released in due course.

Three major articles have been published on the Steppe – a column – on the way for Kazakhstan to revive its socio-economic policy after the pandemic; how population growth and rising poverty may affect Kazakhstan’s economy and how to raise the quality of human capital amid high birth rates.

For media and interview enquiries, please contact:

Dina Teltayeva +7 701 765 40 10 (teltayeva@unfpa.org)