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The social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard
by UN Women, UNFPA, agencies
Apr. 2020
UN chief Antonio Guterres is calling for measures to address a horrifying global surge in domestic violence directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a reference to his repeated appeals for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world, to focus on the shared struggle to overcome the virus, the Secretary-General pointed out that violence is not confined to the battlefield, and that for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries. However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.
The issue affects both developed and poorer economies: nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the USA, whilst in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence is a reality for 65 per cent of women.
Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details the disturbing impacts of violence on women's physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health.
Offically recorded statics cite that over 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members (unofficially the numbers are likely be in the hundreds of thousands).
Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.
These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place: as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher.
Responding to the rise in violence is further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic.
'Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed', said Mr. Guterres, local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full.
Reasons for the shortage of shelters include their conversion into health facilities, or new measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading COVID-19. As for police, they and other members of security forces are, in many instances, less willing to arrest perpetrators of violence, limiting direct engagement, or are overwhelmed by policing lockdowns.
The UN chief urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19, and outlined several actions that can be taken to improve the situation including:
Increase investment in online services and civil society organizations; Make sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers; Set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries; Declare shelters as essential services; Create safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers; Avoid releasing prisoners convicted of violence against women in any form; Scale up public awareness campaigns, particularly those targeted at men and boys.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said that confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health and money worries; and is increasing isolation for women with violent partners.
She described the situation as 'a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors'.
Domestic violence is already, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, widely under-reported, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help, and the pandemic is making reporting even harder, because of limitations on women's and girls access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services.
These limitations fuel impunity for the perpetrators, she warned, adding that, in many countries, the law is not on women's side; one in four countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.
UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed also confirmed that reports from countries in every region indicate that restrictions in movement, social isolation, coupled with increased social and economic pressures are leading to an increase in violence in the home.
'Before this pandemic broke out, statistics showed that one in three women will experience violence in their lives. My concern today is for all women across the world who are suffering even more now due to the extra economic and social stresses caused by a radical shift away from normal life.
This stress is leading to an increased danger of violence. It's clear that when women and girls are 'locked down' in their homes with abusive partners, they are at much greater risk than ever before.
This upsurge in violence is not limited to one country or one region. Media reports are documenting an increase in violence across the globe - from Argentina, to China, Germany, Turkey, Honduras, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States to name just a few. In Malaysia calls have doubled and in France they are up 32 per cent. In Lebanon calls to the helpline were double in March of this year as they were in the same month last year.
And the worry is that these figures only reflect reporting. Domestic violence is typically grossly under-reported. In the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help.
So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem. They are also reflective of countries that have reporting systems in place. The availability of data is not the same everywhere, particularly in developing countries.
We are seeing not just a huge increase in the number of women and girls being abused but also a greater complexity to the violence being perpetrated. Women who are suspected, however erroneously, of exposure to the coronavirus, are faced with being thrown out onto the street in the midst of lockdown. Abusers are taking advantage of isolation measures knowing that women are unable to call for help or escape.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of health and social services that are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and have shifted to manage the implications of the virus.
Civil society organizations which may have previously helped victims of violence are unable to operate. And the domestic violence shelters that have been able to remain open are often full; shelter managers are not equipped and scared to take in new victims because of the virus.
Everyone has a responsibility to act, from individuals to governments, business and civil society. Addressing gender-based violence must be at the center of all domestic plans on COVID-19 response.
There are some innovative actions being taken that can be replicated. In Argentina, for example, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. In France, where grocery stores are housing pop-up-services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to those women who cannot go home.
The Spanish government has told women that they are exempt from the lockdown if they need to leave the home because of abuse and both Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to counter the damaging fall-out from COVID-19.
National governments in all countries should dedicate funding in national COVID-19 response plans for domestic violence shelters, increased support to call-in lines, including text services so reports of abuse can take place discreetly, online legal support and counselling services for women and girls.
These are services which are run, in many cases, by civil society organizations, which now also need financial support.
Shelters should be designated as essential services and kept open, which may mean providing childcare to staff so they can work. It's crucial that these services are accessible, so they should be integrated into other essential service spaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies.
In countries where the UN is providing humanitarian support, which includes some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world, we are prioritizing protection services for women. The UN is advocating with governments for the measures mentioned above to be integrated into all national response plans'.
* Policy brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women:
* COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. (UN Women)
Globally 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or phsyical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Currently half the world is in lockdown due to COVID-19.
This issue brief highlights emerging evidence of the impact of the recent global pandemic of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls.
It makes recommendations to be considered by all sectors of society, from governments to international organizations and to civil society organizations in order to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, at the onset, during, and after the public health crisis with examples of actions already taken.
It also considers the economic impact of the pandemic and its implications for violence against women and girls in the long-term.
It is a living document that draws upon the knowledge and experience of a wide range of experts who support solutions to end violence against women and girls, attentive to the country context in which the crisis is occurring; released 6th April:
Mar. 2020
A week since The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and robust measures around the world attempt to contain its spread, the social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard.
Globally, women make up 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector, and they do three times as much unpaid care work at home as men.
'The majority of health workers are women and that puts them at highest risk. Most of them are also parents and care givers to family members. They continue to carry the burden of care, which is already disproportionally high in normal times. This puts women under considerable stress', said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
'In addition, the majority of women work in the informal economy, where health insurance is likely to be non-existent or inadequate, and income is not secure. Because they are not well targeted for bail outs they are financially on their own. This is not simply a health issue for many women; it goes to the heart of gender equality'.
Recent experience of other disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola and Zika, have shown that such outbreaks divert resources away from services that women need, even as their burden of care increases and their paid livelihoods suffer losses.
For instance, when health services are overstretched, women's access to pre- and post-natal health care and contraceptives dwindle. There are rising concerns of this happening as a result of COVID-19.
In addition, the specific needs of women health workers are often overlooked. 'In Asia, emerging findings from the health response showed that menstrual hygiene products for women health workers were initially lacking as part of personal protective gear', said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women's Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
When households are placed under strain and in contexts of family violence, as strategies for self-isolation and quarantine are employed, the risk of such violence tend to increase. Reports from some impacted communities are showing that COVID-19 is driving similar trends right now.
The evidence is also mounting that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will hit women harder, as more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are likely to compromise women's ability to make a living and meet their families basic needs, as was seen in the Ebola crisis.
As more countries and areas enact closure of schools and childcare facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19, women's ability to engage in paid work faces extra barriers.
Globally women continue to be paid 16 per cent less than men on average, and the pay gap rises to 35 per cent in some countries. In times of crisis like this, women often face the unfair and sometimes impossible choice of giving up paid work to care for children at home.
UN Women is working with WHO and other UN agencies to leverage existing networks of women-led organizations to advance women's voice and decision-making in COVID-19 preparedness and response.
'Making sure that crisis and risk communication targets and reaches women, persons living with disabilities and marginalized groups, is critically important right now', said Paivi Kaarina Kannisto, UN Women's Chief of Peace and Security.
'In Liberia and Sierra Leone, UN Women's community mobilization campaigns focused on disseminating messaging on Ebola prevention, case management and anti-stigmatization. Through awareness raising, community outreach and training, the programmes utilized local women speaking to other women via different media, including radio and text messaging. This helped to ensure that life-saving information shared was relatable and delivered by a trustworthy source.
The approach of integrating a gender-focused response that relied on local women's networks had a significant impact on the successful regional containment of the Ebola crisis'.
UN Women has issued a set of recommendations, placing women's needs and leadership at the heart of effective response to COVID-19:
Ensure availability of sex-disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Embed gender dimensions and gender experts within response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into response teams.
Provide priority support to women on the frontlines of the response, for instance, by improving access to women-friendly personal protective equipment and menstrual hygiene products for healthcare workers and caregivers, and flexible working arrangements for women with a burden of care.
Ensure equal voice for women in decision making in the response and long-term impact planning. Ensure that public health messages properly target women including those most marginalized.
Develop mitigation strategies that specifically target the economic impact of the outbreak on women and build women's resilience. Protect essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services and prioritize services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by COVID-19.
* Access more messages and resources from UN Women on COVID-19; Social media messages and assets from the United Nations system: COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement; The COVID-19 outbreak and gender: Key advocacy points from Asia and the Pacific; COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: How to incorporate women and gender equality in the management of the crisis response.
# COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement:
COVID-19 pandemic. (UNFPA)
The COVID-19 pandemic is straining public health systems, triggering unprecedented measures by governments around the world, including movement restrictions and shelter-in-place orders. Evidence from prior outbreaks shows that this crisis could exact a massive toll on women and girls.
Women are disproportionally represented in the health and social services sectors, increasing their risk of exposure to the disease. Stress, limited mobility and livelihood disruptions also increase women's and girls vulnerability to gender-based violence and exploitation. And if health systems redirect resources away from sexual and reproductive health services, women's access to family planning, antenatal care and other critical services could suffer.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is on the ground, distributing personal protective equipment for health workers and supporting health systems where needed. UNFPA is also supporting efforts to learn more about the virus and its impact to better serve the most vulnerable.
'While fear and uncertainty are natural responses to the coronavirus, we must be guided by facts and solid information', said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA's Executive Director. 'We must stand together in solidarity, fight stigma and discrimination, and ensure that people get the information and services they need'.
Apr. 2020
Millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, unintended pregnancies expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (UNFPA)
A clear view of the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is only beginning to take shape, but experts estimate the human cost could be extraordinary. The economic and physical disruptions caused by the disease could have vast consequences for the rights and health of women and girls, a new analysis by UNFPA and partners shows.
Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.
The pandemic is also expected to cause significant delays in programmes to end female genital mutilation and child marriage, resulting in an estimated 2 million more cases of FGM over the next decade than would otherwise have occurred. These delayed programmes, on top of growing economic hardships globally, could result in an estimated 13 million more child marriages over 10 years.
These figures produced in collaboration with partners Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Victoria University (Australia) are rough estimates. A great deal is still unknown about how the pandemic, and the response to it, will unfold around the world. But together, the projections offer an alarming view of the future that could confront women and girls if efforts are not urgently made to secure their welfare and ensure their rights.
'This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally', said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA's Executive Director.
The world is already seeing signs of a surge in violence against women and girls, with increased reports to domestic violence hotlines, crisis centres and justice officials.
The new assessment foresees two ways the pandemic could contribute to more gender-based violence. The first is through disruptions in programmes to prevent violence and provide services, care and support to survivors. The second is through increased total acts of violence as lockdowns keep women inside with their abusers and as households endure stressors like economic turmoil.
Ghadeer Bulad has seen both of these factors play out already. She is the director of the Women's Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association, which works with UNFPA in Homs, Syria. 'During the curfew period, I have met a lot of woman who face violence by their husbands', she told UNFPA. 'It has clearly increased'.
Many safe spaces have been closed, Ms. Bulad said, meaning that for those in abusive relationships, 'the woman has been imprisoned in the house'.
She also witnessed abuse first-hand while visiting families to raise awareness about disease prevention efforts: 'I saw a woman being beaten by her husband during the curfew, as the husband lost his job and the woman was unable to control their nine children', she recalled. One woman told me that she is exposed to intimate violence from her husband, repeated on a daily basis, since he had lost his job. I also saw a wife being beaten in front of her children'.
The world is also already seeing widespread disruptions in family planning services. In many places, health facilities are closing or limiting services. Where health systems are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, clinical staff may not have the time or personal protective equipment needed to provide family planning counselling and commodities. In some places, women are refraining from visiting health facilities due to movement restrictions or fears about COVID-19 exposure.
Additionally, supply chain disruptions are limiting the availability of contraceptives in many places. Over the next six months, stock-outs are anticipated in more than a dozen of the lowest-income countries. On top of all that, UNFPA anticipates significant delays in planned efforts to scale-up access to family planning for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.
The assessment looks at different possible degrees of service disruptions, and different lengths of disruptions. A minimal three-month duration of lockdown, with minimal service disruptions, would leave an estimated 13 million women unable to use modern contraceptives, resulting in 325,000 unintended pregnancies.
In the most severe scenario, with significant service disruptions lasting for a full year, 51 million women would be unable to use modern contraceptives, resulting in 15 million unintended pregnancies.
'The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health', said Dr. Kanem.
FGM and child marriage are also projected to increase, in large part due to delays in the implementation of programmes to end these harmful practices. Programmes addressing these harmful practices are often communal, involving the exchange of information and perspectives. Without such programmes, UNFPA's analysis estimates that 2 million additional cases of FGM could take place over the next decade that otherwise would have been averted.
Similarly disrupted efforts to end child marriage will result in millions more child marriages over the coming 10 years. And because poverty is a known driver of child marriage - with families more likely to marry off daughters in times of economic stress to alleviate the perceived burden of caring for them - the anticipated economic fallout of the pandemic is expected to result in millions more early marriages. Together, it is expected that 13 million more child marriages could take place by 2030 than would have otherwise.
But these do not have to be our future, Dr. Kanem emphasized. The world can take steps to ensure continued access to reproductive health care and to protect the rights and dignity of all women and girls.
'Women's reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs', she said. 'The services must continue, the supplies must be delivered, and the vulnerable must be protected and supported'.

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COVID-19 condemns millions of women to poverty, when they could be a solution to prosperity
by CARE International, agencies
Apr. 2020
The majority of women around the world work in low-paid positions, the informal economy, or in agriculture jobs with few protections. These are the sectors that are being worst hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, and as the crisis drags on and worsens across the Global South, millions will be left without work, and in poverty.
740 million women work in the informal sector, which has been worst hit by the economic fall out of the coronavirus. Furthermore women are less likely to benefit from recovery and stabilisation measures, as gender and social norms prohibit access to economic opportunities and financial resources.
A new study by CARE International 'Women's Economic Justice and Rights' reveals how the global pandemic is having a real and immediate economic impact on women in the developing world.
Over 45 million women work in the garment industry, and face the loss of their sole income; while nearly 44 million female domestic workers across the world, and the tens of millions of poor rural women reliant on farming, can no longer access fields and livelihoods.
Mareen Buschmann, CARE International UK's policy specialist on Women's Economic Empowerment, says; 'the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and financial impact are deeply gendered. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted, they bear a higher infection risk given they make up over 70% of the global health workforce, and they face higher rates of insecurity as they tend to work in informal jobs with little legal and social protection, so will be hit first and hardest by an economic downturn'.
CARE's analysis found that an estimated 90 percent of female entrepreneurs participating in CARE's projects in Sri Lanka have seen their income decrease in recent weeks; particularly as their supply chains have been critically disrupted.
The effects extend beyond economic repercussions, as the report also reveals how female entrepreneurs in Guatemala are also struggling to meet basic needs, such as food and water, for their families.
Despite this, the COVID-19 crisis also offers a unique opportunity. Prioritising women and economic recovery along more equitable lines is not just morally right, it is also economically practical. Women have long been seen as critical agents of post-crisis recovery, and investing in gender equality has the potential to stimulate the economy and reverse losses to global wealth by trillions of dollars.
Buschmann notes; 'The pandemic offers policy makers the unique opportunity to turn crisis into a momentum to reset and build back more just and inclusive societies by driving a new model for equitable growth. Embracing female leadership is key to this.
If this chance is missed, the crisis will only reinforce existing inequalities and roll back decades of progress on women's and girls justice and rights. Without a strong focus on gender in the political response, the economic impact of COVID will ruin and cost lives. Recovery needs to prioritise gender equality, providing women with equal opportunities and an equal voice'.
Key findings of the report include:
Women and girls face a particular risk of infection due to the types of work that they do. For example, women make up over 70 percent of the global health and social workforces.
Economic downturns particularly affect women and girls. Many are employed in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic including domestic work, entertainment, retail, smallholder farming, tourism, and travel as well as in the informal economy and as migrant workers.
Women's and girls economic opportunities are diminished. As unpaid care burdens are increasing, livelihood opportunities are decreasing, and women entrepreneurs may find it difficult to rebuild their livelihoods.
Women's and girls access to financial services is decreasing. An economic downturn will especially affect women's financial inclusion, including access to loans and savings mechanisms. However, access to these resources will be vital for overcoming the crisis.
Gender-based violence of all types is on the rise and risking lives. Women and girls are more exposed to domestic violence while quarantined with their abusers. Financial stress and unemployment are further contributing to an increased risk, and work-based violence has also been increasing, particularly for frontline workers.
Lack of women's and girls leadership and voice and regressing norms. Women and girls are already marginalised from decision-making within their households, communities, and the wider economy, yet frequently hold the key to solutions given their role in communities. COVID-19 further puts these hard-won gains at stake.
24th Apr 2020
As Coronavirus stalls flows of remittances worldwide, millions of people risk losing their lifelines.
Diaspora communities around the globe are being hit hard by lockdowns, layoffs and illnesses to due to COVID-19. According to recent analysis from the World Bank, remittances to low and middle-income countries are projected to fall by 19.7 percent to $445 billion (from $554 billion in 2019), leaving millions of people who rely on remittances for survival at risk of losing these critical lifelines.
While both those sending money overseas and those receiving it are being affected, CARE International is concerned about vulnerable communities in low income countries, including those already affected by the compounding impacts of severe weather events or conflict.
Countries heavily reliant on remittances, tend to also be reliant on humanitarian aid but with both of these critical funding sources depleting as a result of COVID-19, we are left with a very bleak picture of the future for millions, says Delphine Pinault, CARE International's Humanitarian Policy Advocacy Coordinator & UN Representative.
"Women are being hit especially hard by these economic repercussions; they are more likely to work in informal and low-paid jobs - often without wage protection and depend on remittances and aid to ensure their families survival.
Take Tonga, a small island developing state, heavily reliant on tourism which makes up 20 % of the GDP. Here remittances represent more than 35% of the GDP, ranking it number 1 in the World Bank's ranking of countries with the highest remittance percentage per GDP. The country where more than 20 % of the population live under the poverty line has also just been hit by a category 5 cyclone which left homes and water sources significantly damaged in communities already facing food insecurity.
These elements together create a perfect storm of risk factors that will have a huge social and economic impact on an already poor and vulnerable population.
In Nepal, a country which received $8.1 billion in remittances in 2018 ranking 5th on the World Bank list - the situation for many is also dire. Due to the lock down restrictions, Nepali migrant workers in India who used to send money back to their families in rural Nepali areas, are now coming back to Nepal with no source of income and limited means to feed their families, says Pinault.
In these countries, as in many others, remittances and aid are crucial for people's survival. Financial support from aid agencies and from migrant diaspor's have played a critical role in helping people to meet their basic needs; in connecting vulnerable people in rural areas to the banking system providing access to credit and the opportunity to invest in small businesses.
The COVID-19 specific global humanitarian response fund was only 30% funded as of April, adds Pinault. Shrinking remittances leaves an even bigger gap and will potentially lead to an unacceptable loss of lives. While countries the world over are struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 domestically, we simply cannot afford to ignore the suffering of the poorer and weaker nations who so desperately need the world's more highly developed economies, to stand in solidarity with them too.
Apr. 2020
CARE Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID 19 East, Central and Southern Africa
The impacts - direct and indirect - of public health emergencies fall disproportionally on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. Interconnected social, economic, and political factors pose complex challenges for the ECSA region"s ability to respond to COVID-19. The region already faces significant health challenges that would exacerbate the severity of COVID-19, such as high levels of malnutrition, malaria, anemia, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Access to healthcare in the region is the lowest in the world, thus there is limited capacity to absorb the pandemic.
Gender-based inequality is extensive in the region. Women are at a higher risk for exposure to infection due to the fact that they are often the primary caregivers in the family and constitute 70% of frontline healthcare responders. Most women already face limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services, and the region struggles with high levels of maternal mortality. For example, mother mortality rates recorded in South Sudan were 1150 per 100 000 live births. COVID-19 will only increase women's safety risks and care burdens as health services become stretched and resources shift to COVID-19 responses.
Women and girls are at increased risk of violence during the COVID-19 period. Current rates of violence against women and girls combined with the prevalence of harmful traditional practices leads to increased vulnerability. Income loss and limited mobility, compounded with existing gender role expectations, may contribute to increases in intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence.

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