As of 7 June 2020, there have been 228 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Myanmar, and new cases continue to be confirmed.2 Myanmar’s humanitarian and conflict dynamics, high poverty rate, flow of returning migrants, high numbers of internally displaced people and urban slum-dwellers, and high proportion of workers in the informal sector present a range of challenges in the context of COVID-19. These factors tend to make prevention and control measures more difficult, while also intensifying the potential impacts of a larger outbreak, if it were to occur.
Despite the relatively low number of verified cases within its borders to date, the pandemic has already had an outsized economic impact in Myanmar. Migrant workers, informal sector workers including sex workers, and garment sector workers have all been disproportionately affected.
Women in Myanmar have traditionally been underrepresented in public decision-making processes, a trend which is continuing in structures established to respond to COVID-19. This means that even as women are disproportionately affected by the crisis, they have less say in how their communities and country respond to it, increasing the risk of a COVID-19 response that does not adequately address the needs and priorities of the most vulnerable women and girls.
At least 80,000 migrant workers (65% male) have returned to Myanmar since March.
50% of the 700,000 mainly women workers in the garment sector are at risk of either being suspended without pay or losing their jobs permanently.
90.7% of women who work are in the informal economy. They do not have access to social protections, and are highly exposed to the economic downturn.
Both urban men and women expressed loss of livelihoods and food security as a key issue resulting from movement restrictions.
The medical supply chain has been affected in some parts of the country, with reports of contraception stock outages.
There are reports that fear of contracting COVID-19 is preventing expectant mothers from accessing services, which could increase the already high maternal and infant mortality rate.
Drought and water scarcity in some areas is limiting hand-washing.
With the closure of restaurants and karaoke bars, female sex workers are being forced onto the street, where they are more exposed to physical and sexual violence.
The economic and social disruption of COVID-19 could provide a fertile recruiting ground for trafficking, and economic hardship may lead to a spike in child marriage.
The court system is becoming overwhelmed, with major delays for GBV cases already in process.
Government COVID-19 response strategies could give rise to, or further intensify, human rights abuses, including abuses of women’s rights
Recommendations for responding agencies:
Recommendation 1: Ensure availability of sex and age disaggregated data.
Recommendation 2: Provide emergency cash grants to vulnerable households, particularly women-headed households, who have lost their income, to enable them to meet their basic needs.
Recommendation 3: Develop and prioritize mitigation strategies that specifically focus on the on livelihoods of the most vulnerable women and men, including informal sector workers, and build economic resilience to future shocks.
Recommendation 4: Invest in existing peer networks and organisations for female sex workers, such as SWIM (Sex Workers in Myanmar).
Recommendation 5: Ensure that safety and security in quarantine centres is considered more holistically. Ensure adequate Gender-based Violence (GBV) risk mitigation measures are provided in terms of safe shelter and WASH services and facilities, including access for people with disabilities.
Recommendation 6: Ensure that existing resources for essential SRH services are not diverted due to the pandemic, and existing SRH services remain safely accessible given the changing context and country restrictions.
Recommendation 7: Promote best practices for working with marginalised groups (such as sex workers and the LGBTQI community) in mainstream health services.
Recommendation 8: Ensure continuation and strengthening of services for the prevention of and response to gender-based violence and other protection issues in communities affected by COVID-19.
Recommendation 9: Make active efforts to engage women as leaders in agencies’ responses, engaging women in decision-making around design, planning and implementation of programming for agencies. to re-address the disproportionate number of men represented in leadership positions.