Whilst the coronavirus doesn’t pick its victims based on gender, it’s women who bear much of the knock-on responsibility. Women are more likely to be furloughed, more likely to be responsible for childcare and homeschooling, and have to continue to maintain the home. The pre-existing gender equalities are being exacerbated and in the developing world, that disparity is only widening.
Read on as we discuss how the new world can tackle this.
What are the main issues that are accelerated by Covid-19 for women?
- Women typically earn less, save less, and live closer to poverty than men. With Covid-19 creating new economic concerns, these factors are amplified
- With national health services reallocating funds to fight the effects of the coronavirus, resources are lessened in important areas for women, such as sexual and reproductive health services
- With children out of school and elderly people requiring more support as they shield themselves, it is mostly women who are forced to adjust their lives to provide unpaid care
- Domestic violence against women increased during the lockdown, as women were forced to stay at home with their abusers. In addition to this, couples stuck in a confined space were more likely to argue, fight, and hurt one another. Survivor support also was left with fewer financial resources as the economic effects of the pandemic hit.
How can women use Covid-19 as a platform for progress and change?
The UN report ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Women’ highlights three particular areas of priority to ensure that women are not left behind during or after Covid-19, as shared below:
- Ensure women’s equal represenation in all covid-19 response planning and decision-making. Evidence across sectors, including economic planning and emergency response, demonstrates unquestioningly that policies that do not consult women or include them in decision-making are simply less effective, and can even do harm. Beyond individual women, women’s organizations who are often on the front line of response in communities should also be represented and supported.
- Drive transformative change for equality by addressing the care economy, paid and unpaid. In the formal economy care jobs, from teachers to nurses, are underpaid in relation to other sectors. In the home, women perform the bulk of care work, unpaid and invisible. Both are foundational to daily life and the economy but are premised on and entrench gendered norms and inequalities.
- Target women and girls in all efforts to address the socio-economic impact of Covid-19. It will be important to apply an intentional gender lens to the design of fiscal stimulus packages and social assistance programmes to achieve greater equality, opportunities, and social protection.
Why is it worse to be a woman during a global pandemic?
Some readers may blink at this statement, thinking it couldn’t possibly be true, but when the facts are weighed up, it is quite evident. In most areas of life, women face inequality, through their ethnicity, wealth, disabilities, ages, location, race, sexual orientation, and more. Because of these inequalities, reaching positions of power, where they can be part of the decision-making process is more difficult.
Restrictive religious and social norms, or gender stereotypes can have the same dire effects, which makes not only fighting for progress difficult, but it can make it harder to access medicine, vaccines, sexual health care, maternal support, or reproductive health care. Paying for health insurance is more challenging for women too, but it’s the next point that really epitomises why it’s harder to be a woman in a pandemic:
Women may be at risk or exposure due to the occupational sex-segregation: Globally, women make up 70 percent of the health workforce and are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers. They are also the majority of health facility service-staff – such as cleaners, laundry, catering – and as such they are more likely to be exposed to the virus. In some areas, women have less access to personal protective equipment or correctly sized equipment. Despite these numbers, women are often not reflected in national or global decision-making on the response to COVID-19.
One small policy change can have a huge ripple effect for women
As we’ve written about before, investing in women’s health and education benefits their families, communities, countries, and their futures.
Here’s one amazing example. In Afghanistan, where the number of girls attending school was a measly 44% in 2002, the government decided to recruit, train, and deploy quality female teachers to the countries poorest and most outlying regions. As a result of the influx of female teachers, the rate of girls enrolling in their local primary school shot up to 84% by 2017. The rate of female students staying in school has risen considerably too, with some regions reporting up to 90% retention rates.
What can the UN, Governments, and Grassroots projects do to fight for women?
Think back to the three points made in the UN’s report about how women can come out of the pandemic better.
Point one related to women in decision-making positions. The UN, along with governments and independent groups can perform gender anaylsis and collect important data that can then go on to influence national policies, laws, reforms, and right now, Covid-19 handling. Data is key to helping provide for women, who are unfairly represented and unfairly bearing the major burden for the negative social effects of the coronavirus. Getting women to these positions starts at the bottom, by helping them to get money and skills, and understand how to use them best, especially in developing nations.
Point two looks at the inequality of pay in the care sector, and addressing this as soon as possible on a global scale. Governments and health sectors during the pandemic have, in many countries, done the best they can to provide PPE and supplies for health workers. In many other countries, the funds were not available, putting health workers not only on the frontline, but in direct fire of the coronavirus. For countries with weak public health and underfunded social support, the UN and WHO have made moves to raise awareness about how to avoid contracting Covid-19 where possible.
Point three relates to socio-economics and how women suffer in an imbalanced way as the primary unpaid carer for children and the elderly. For governments to support women, they have to provide paid care for the elderly (and those who have recovered) and do their best to keep schools and kindergarten safe and open. They can also provide PPE to unpaid carers upon request and hold local training sessions to help women learn how best to care for their loved ones in a pandemic. It is also not too late for governments to extend sick leave, expand social assistance programmes, and provide grants or subsidies for child services. To truly support women in this time, giving visibility to unpaid work is not enough, governments and organisations must pull together to better redistribute resources and help women become financially self-sufficient.
It seems for SDG5, compared to some of the other SDGs, that there is a solid roadmap to the future for a better world for women post-Covid-19. Will that roadmap transpire into real events? It’s hard to say, but what we do know is that we are eternally grateful to all of the women out there who are working themselves to the ground. We salute you and are championing your cause.