The Impact of COVID-19 on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Youth-led Perspectives and Solutions for a Gender-Equal World
New study on the effects of COVID-19 on SRHR
A first-of-its-kind study highlighting the experiences, insights, and perspectives of adolescents and youth on the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SRHR.
Worsening SRHR have been both a cause and a consequence of increased gender inequalities. This study analyzes global evidence of the impact of COVID-19 on SRHR and highlights youth’s first-hand experiences and perspectives.
The insights and perspectives of adolescents and youth are often absent from global evidence reviews. Throughout each phase of this study, Women Deliver intentionally compared the insights and perspectives of adolescent and youth to the global evidence base by gathering qualitative stories from youth advocates in India, Kenya, and Nigeria. Women Deliver firmly believes in meaningful engagement and co-leadership. Youth advocates were involved in research design, primary data collection, generation, and validation, and policy recommendation co-creation. The study found multiple and diverse intersecting impacts at a structural or systems level, community level, and individual level:
- The ripple effects of deprioritizing SRHR were felt globally: Youth advocates reinforced that reproductive health was sidelined and seen as non-essential in many contexts in order to prioritize pandemic response.
- Under-resourced health systems were hard hit: While gaps in SRHR policies existed pre-pandemic, insights from youth advocates reinforced how a lack of investment in SRHR and gaps between policies and implementation were compounded during the pandemic.
- Non-state actors stepped up to fill gaps: Youth advocates highlighted that local civil society organizations (CSOs) are essential to advocating for SRHR and holding governments accountable because of their deep understanding of local needs and realities.
- Marginalized girls and women were most affected by the pandemic and related policy responses: Many youth advocates highlighted how during — and even prior to the pandemic — stigma and discrimination around accessing SRH services and information prevented adolescents and youth from seeking the services and information they needed.
- As gender-based violence (GBV) increased, pandemic restrictions severely limited GBV services: Youth advocates emphasized how pre-existing harmful social norms and gender inequalities, economic and social stress induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and restricted movement and social isolation measures, led to an increase in GBV.
- COVID-19 had a negative impact on SRHR outcomes for girls and women: Many youth advocates shared that there was an increase in unintended pregnancies in their community during the pandemic owing to difficulties accessing and purchasing SRH services and contraception, respectively.
- The use of digital technologies to access SRHR services and information, particularly by adolescents and youth, increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but left many excluded due to the digital divide: Youth advocates revealed that organizations and models based on digital technology were effective in disseminating SRHR information, but were often inaccessible for hard-to-reach and low-income communities.
Recommendations for Action
As COVID-19 threatens to reverse important gains in SRHR, while also widening existing disparities, it is crucial that stakeholders, including governments, donors, the private sector, and CSOs, recognize the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on girls and women, in all their intersecting identities. As part of this process, it is important to ensure that adolescents and youth have meaningful roles in shaping program, policy, and research initiatives. Their involvement is crucial to ensuring that SRHR programs and policies are relevant and sustainable.
The study outlines six policy recommendations, co-created by youth advocates, for stakeholders responsible for strengthening and upholding SRHR in emergency and non-emergency contexts, including pandemic response and recovery:
- Ensure SRHR as an integral component of universal health coverage and resilient health systems.
- Ensure adequate and fully protected budgetary allocation for SRHR, along with the release of funds, to drive the full realization of SRHR. A key mechanism for this is civil society and youth-led budget advocacy.
- Increase and maintain strong political and financial support for civil society partners that engage in SRHR service delivery and advocacy.
- Ensure the financing and delivery of comprehensive, integrated, and survivor-centered gender-based violence prevention and response services for girls and women, in all their intersecting identities.
- Maintain adolescent and youth-friendly SRHR services, particularly in emergency contexts, in order to ensure continued access for those who face multiple barriers.
- The use of digital technologies to disseminate and distribute SRHR services, information, and products must be combined with efforts to address the gendered digital divide.