Covid-19 presents new challenges for human rights in the Philippines as the pandemic stretches resources and opportunities thin across the country. While not everyone is infected by the virus, it can be argued that everyone is affected due to the interconnected nature of rights.

Minority Floor Leader Atty. Laisa Masuhud Alamia sees the links between the current pandemic and the human rights situation in the country from a unique perspective, given her experience both as a nurse, a human rights lawyer, and a Muslim woman in the Philippines. In a recent webinar with the National Women’s Council of the Philippines, she spoke about the rights of women under Shari’a (Islamic Law) and how they can be upheld and protected as the country deals with Covid-19. According to MP Alamia, there is a need to look at the “lived realities of women during the pandemic, what rights are affected, and how we can fight for them.”

While 55% of confirmed Covid cases are male, MP Alamia asserted that “there is a difference between being infected and being affected.” While the virus does not discriminate, studies consistently show evidence that Covid is having a disproportionate impact on women and girls.

“Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of Covid-19 is exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex,” MP Alamia said. “Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, and thus are saving less, while holding insecure jobs and living close to poverty.”

Reports show that while 55% of Covid-19 deaths are men, there are more women among the ranks of health workers around the world. This means that women are still disproportionately affected despite a relatively lower number of deaths, as “women’s health is adversely impacted because of reallocation of resources and priorities, including sexual and reproductive health services,” MP Alamia said. She also noted how “unpaid care work has increased” as quarantine measures are put in place, “with children staying at home while doing their modules and participating in online classes.” In many communities, women are expected to maintain households while trying to find additional sources of income to sustain their families’ needs. 

As Covid-19 “pandemic deepens economic and social stress, coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures,” MP Alamia noted reports that “gender-based violence have increased exponentially.” Women are being forced to lockdown at home with their abusers, while services to support survivors are disrupted or made inaccessible.

As rights are placed at risk due to the pandemic, it is important to remember that women’s rights are equally protected under Islamic Law, with the universal precept that “all human beings are equal in the eyes of Allah,” and “the right to non-discrimination is related to the right to equality,” MP Alamia said. These same rights are also “embodied and echoed in our own constitution and international agreements,” she added.

“The complete expression of Islamic values is in the recognition of the fundamental equality and humanity of all human beings,” MP Alamia said.

Women’s right to life and health, according to her, need to be affirmed by “the continuous provision of quality and accessible health care,” especially “the response to the pandemic results in limitations in other critical services that women need, especially for sexual and reproductive health needs.” Women’s economic rights must also be upheld, as “women’s economic and productive lives are affected disproportionately and differently from men.”

MP Alamia also mentioned women’s right to support, a right that is “of particular importance in the time of the pandemic” and is “not just legally approved but also an act of devotion on the part of the person providing support for the woman.” This includes providing for everything that is indispensable for sustenance, as providing support for women is “not only an obligation under Shari’a, but is also affirmed by the Code of Muslim Personal Laws and the Constitution.”

Reports also show that the number of victim-survivors of violence against women (VAW) and girls are rising globally. While most of them have been experiencing VAW before the pandemic started, Covid-19 has made it more difficult for women and girls to seek safety away from their abusers. Women’s right to divorce under Shari’a and the Code of Muslim Personal Laws must be recognized and protected, MP Alamia said, as the state provides support for victim-survivors.

“Existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and it will worsen unless our response embodies a gendered perspective that necessitates the recognition and protection of women’s rights,” MP Alamia said. “Everyone should work together to uphold women’s rights and ending injustices that pervade the personal and collective lives of human beings.”