COVID-19 Op-ed

Securitization of COVID-19 In Timor-Leste: A Gender Perspective

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Dr. Chen, Li-LiDepartment of
Political Science, Faculty of Social Science
Universidade
Nacional Timor Lorosa’e

To date, COVID-19 has swept more than 200 countries and caused
almost 1 million confirmed cases and 70000 deaths (WHO, 2020). Timor-Leste
took a series of actions combating COVID-19 after it found the first case of
COVID-19 on 21 March. The state of emergency came into force on 28 March,
which limited the citizens’ and residents’ right to movement and rights to
assemble as well as deployed the police and the military force to implement
related rules. Meanwhile, the national parliament allocated $150 million for
COVID-19 (Martins, 2020). Timor-Leste has 1 confirmed case until 6
April.While people are affected by COVID-19, they experience it differently
due to gender inequality. Gender sheds light on social constructions among
individual, and cannot be reduced to women (Steans, 2013). In times of health
emergencies, gender inequality is likely to be exacerbated. After World
Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as Public Health Emergency of
International Concern, many states adopt health securitization approach to
contain the spread of virus, and Timor-Leste is no reception (WHO, 2020).
Consequently, a deeper look at the health securitization from a gender lens
seems relevant and needed. In this article, I will discuss the dynamic of
health securitization and gender, examine the gendered impacts of COVID-19,
and conclude with two policy insights for future concerns in
Timor-Leste.Securitization can be briefly defined as: prioritizing a certain
issue as a security threat which requires mobilizing national resources and
political leadership to combat it (Weaver, 1995). Health-related issues, such
as AIDS/HIV and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola, have been
global security concerns: United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution
2177 declared that the Ebola outbreak in Africa threatens international
security and peace (UNSC, 2014). Although securitization allows states to
relocate resources effectively to tackle a particular health threat, it
renders disproportionate allocation of resources to security sectors and
diverts aids and humanitarian resources away from basic medical
infrastructure and care. It further leaves the gender structure which
underscores securitization unchallenged.In spite of the danger of
securitizing health, the academia has been silent on gender (CARE,
 2020). What’s worse, the empirics show that women and girls are exposed
to higher risks of Sexual and Gender-based violence (SGBV) and Intimate
Domestic Violence (IDV) during the breakout of Ebola and Zika (UNGA, 2016;
UNFPA, 2020). Similar trend was reported worldwide as cases of SGBV and IDV
surged during Covid-19 (Taub, 2020).Seeing health securitization from a
gender lens requires us to ask questions who these women are. Women form 70%
of the health and social task force globally and they perform three times as
much unpaid work as men, but many are burdened with work, higher risks to
disease, and unpaid care work at home without further support (UN Women,
2020). Women engaging in informal and low-wage activities face economic and
food insecurity (CARE, 2020). LGBTQ+ might also be exposed to higher health
risks and even violence (Hussain and Caspani, 2014).COVID-19 is having a
serious impact on Timorese peoples’ life, especially women. In economic
sectors, many businesses have to close or decrease their open hours, and many
employed female workers (14200 out of 53000, Ximenes et al, 2018) are laid
off or forced to have a salary cut. Informal workers, mostly women and
composed 60% of the labour in Timor-Leste, experience the loss of income
(Neves, 2020). For example, two female vegetable vendors who live and sell in
Becora have to walk the whole afternoon to Bideu Leciderie to find customers
because of “no public transportation” and “no customers and no money to buy
food for kids at home”. Each woman is estimated to get $10 if each sells out
her vegetables in one day. (Anonymous, April 6, 2020)Staying-at-home,
working-from-home and social distancing put disproportionate pressure on
women. The closure of schools and training centers render all children and
students to stay home. Parents, mostly women, have to look after them. While
women are burdened with care work 24/7 at home, some are exposed to higher
risk of violence and health, or stress, compounded by other factors, such as
limited access to health care, information, water and sanitation. One female
cleaner has to bring her daughter to work because “kids cry if not seeing
her”. Men who live together with her “have big salary” and demand her to do
all the house chores and care work, even all of them work. (Anonymous, April
3, 2020)Policies under health securitization do not usually consider gender
inequality among individuals, and it exposes women and vulnerable groups to
greater inequalities. From a gender perspective, the Timorese government
could improve its COVID-19 preparedness and response at least in two ways:
First, ensure the basic medical system and service accessible to women,
girls, and vulnerable groups. Second, come up with different packages
targeting different groups and their particular needs affected by COVID-19.
While securitizing health seems favorable by the Timorese government at the
moment, the government should not lose sight of weighing its unintended
consequences, and addressing some fundamental issues, which shape experiences
of women and other vulnerable groups in the first place.References:Anonymous.
(2020, April 3). Personal Interview.Anonymous. (2020, April 6). Personal
Interview.CARE. (2020, March 16). Gender
implications of COVID-19 outbreaks in development and humanitarian
settings
. Accessed April 4th 2020.Hussain, Misha
and Maria
Caspani
. (2014, October 23). Gay
community under attack in Liberia under Ebola outbreak
. Accessed
April 5th 2020.Martins, Evaristo Soares. (2020, April 2). Proposta
adisional la pasa, proposta original aprovadu
. Accessed April 4th
2020.Neves, Guteriano. (2020, 3 April). Timor-Leste:
the consequences of COVID-19
. Accessed April 4th 2020.Steans, Jill.
(2013). Gender and International Relations: Theory, Practice, Plicy. MA:
Polity.Taub, Amanda. (2020, April 6). A
new COVID-19 crisis: domestic abuses rises worldwide
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April 7th 2020.UNGA A/70/723. (2016). Protecting
humanity from future health crises: report of the High-Level Panel on the
Global Response to Health Crises
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S/RES/2177. (2014). http://unscr.com/en/resolutions/2177.
Accessed April 4th 2020.UNFPA. (2020, March). COVID-19:
a gender lens-protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and
produce gender equality
. Accessed April 4th 2020.UN Women Arab
States. (2020, 18 March). Paying
attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19
response
. Accessed April 5th 2020.WHO.
(2020, 30 January). Public
health emergency of international concerns declared
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4th 2020.WHO. (2020, 6 April). Coronavirus
disease (COVID-2019) situations reports
. Accessed April 7th
2020.Waever, Ole. (1995). Securitization and desecuritization. In On Security,
edited by Ronnie D. Lipschutz, pp.46-86. New York: Columbia University
Press.Ximenes, Eduardo Martinho et al. Business
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. Accessed
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