Coronavirus is taking its toll on sexual and reproductive rights around the world. Safe abortion services and access to contraception are under pressure. Intimate partner violence has increased as people are shut down at home with their abuser and unable to escape. RNW Media’s Love Matters platforms are responding to the crisis in a range of ways intended to inform and support their young audience.
Love Matters takes a pleasure positive approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), believing that young people have the right to safe and satisfying love, sex and relationships. This approach is a challenge when millions of people around the world are struggling with the physical, emotional and mental effects of isolation, anxiety and economic difficulty. Head of Love Matters India Vithika Yadav had this to say about the dilemma:
We at Love Matters have been faced with a puzzle. We are in the business of bringing people together. And here we are, in a world that needs us to stay apart! But then we thought about it a bit more. And realised that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually brought us all together! It has brought the world together towards a single goal, with a singularity of purpose that we would have found hard to imagine only days ago. That is to fight the disease and bring us all back together, physically and socially.
The physical symptoms of the infection will show on some, but the mental, social, emotional and economic impacts are likely to be felt by everyone; and marginalised populations will be the most affected. To overcome these, we will need kindness, empathy, courage and the capability to filter information.
Yadav and her team in India have responded by creating and sharing tips, stories and ideas on how to stay kind, positive and empathetic. They are also offering information on how to filter good information and advice from bad and, says Yadav, ‘how to love in the times of Corona’.
In this video, visitors to Love Matters India talk about the things they’re finding difficult in lock-down.
Locked down with an abuser
The Love Matters teams in Nigeria and Kenya are particularly concerned about their communities’ safety during the crisis after a survey in Kenya by research bureau infotrak showed an unprecedented increase of almost 30% in incidents of GBV and IPV. Alu Azege, Country Coordinator for the Love Matters Naija platform, reports that they are receiving many messages and queries from their Facebook community:
In all of our messages, we have found a nexus between COVID-19 and the different SRHR themes. Recently, issues of IPV, GBV and even rape have gone up. Indeed some ladies have informed us they are on lockdown with their violators. People shared fears of the neglect and negligence of the Nigerian government in planning for the majority of citizens whose sustenance is earned on the streets. They also shared concerns for their physical, emotional, and psychological safety, often asking for suggestions on how to manage these fears.
As well as working to answer such concerns, the Love Matters Africa and Naija teams are producing content intended to boost morale with daily posts that include engaging trivia to keep community members mentally engaged. Alongside quizzes and puzzles, there are articles advising people how to keep themselves healthy and stable and on the effect of the pandemic on people’s sex lives.
Effects of social distancing
The Egypt-based Love Matters Arabic platform is also concerned about GBV after a survey of their own social media followers which attracted almost 1300 responses found that 57% of participants reported increased domestic violence as a result of social isolation. They have produced videos, articles and a podcast addressing the issue. On social media, the team is posting daily updates including health and relationship tips, infographics, polls, questions, videos, and cartoons.
Team member Dr. Khalid Anwar is a psychiatrist and he hosted a live stream on Facebook focusing on the psychological aspects of social distancing and its effect on couples and family relationships. The broadcast attracted 262,000 views and thousands of positive reactions. Moderators are responding daily to the questions and concerns received on the discussion board, website and social media, always making sure to double-check the information they provide as so much about COVID-19 is still unclear.
SRH services hit
Even as parts of China are recovering from the worst of the pandemic, there are still many relevant concerns that Love Matters China is focusing on. The lack of healthcare for non-COVID-19 cases is making it difficult for people to get tested and treated for sexual health related issues. There are also rumours related to sexual health such as abstinence being a protection against the Coronavirus and fact-based worries such as its potential effects on male fertility. Love Matters China has invited specialists such as a gynecologist and urologist to deal with the rumours and clarify the facts, as well as offer advice to people worried about certain symptoms and wondering if they should seek medical help.
When we meet again
Quarantine has also thrown up a whole range of relationship problems from couples who are finding it difficult being shut-in together to the challenge of maintaining a long-distance relationship when partners are quarantined separately. Responding to these issues, an experienced marriage therapist offered suggestions on how to stop arguing and support each other though the quarantine. Love Matters China has also launched an online campaign around long-distance relationships, inviting users to share their stories and describe what will they do when they are able to meet their partners again. And for users who are becoming frustrated by their unfulfilled sexual desires, the team are also sharing information on how to masturbate and how to have phone sex with your partner.