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World Population Day is celebrated on 11 July every year to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues worldwide. It was initiated in 1989 by the then- Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme. 11 July 1987 was the day of five billion world’s population that led to the establishment of this annual event.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people, communities, and the economic situation everywhere. But not everyone is affected equally. Women are disproportionately influenced by this crisis. As countries are observing lockdown and health systems are trying to cope, sexual and reproductive health services are being hampered and gender-based violence is on the rise.

Due to the heavily burdened health system and disruption to global manufacturing and supply chains, the availability of contraceptives is impacted and heightening the risk of unintended pregnancy. According to the new United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projections, 47 million women may not be able to access modern contraceptives leading to 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months.

The pandemic is compounding existing gender inequalities. There is an increase in gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur if lockdowns continue for at least 6 months. Due to the disruption of programmes to prevent female genital mutilation in response to COVID-19, 2 million female genital mutilation cases may occur over the next decade that could have been averted. COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been avoided.

Nearly 60 percent of women work in the informal sector worldwide and due to economic slowdown, they are at greater risk of falling into poverty.

Putting the brakes on COVID-19: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now 

On 11 July, World Population Day, (UNFPA) aims to raise awareness about the sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the pandemic. Right now is the moment to initiate actions, as the world is undergoing drastic shifts due to the pandemic and its social and economic after-effects. Without the initiation of urgent action, the situation for women and girls could worsen.

Along with strengthening the capacity of health systems to respond effectively to COVID-19, other essential services, including quality sexual and reproductive health services should also be prioritized. Our response to COVID-19 and efforts to leave no one behind is critical and will determine how fast we recover and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.