Although research suggests that men are more likely to experience the negative symptoms of the novel coronavirus, women disproportionately bear the emotional, social, and economic toll created by the global pandemic. Women make up the majority of front-line health care workers, hold jobs less immune to an economic downturn, are more responsible for caregiving duties, and face a high risk of domestic violence. Due to the pandemic, decades of progress towards gender equality have been wiped away, leaving girls and women in a state of vulnerability when it comes to their homes, their health, their education, and their livelihood.
Women in the economy
Around the world, over 740 million women conduct informal work — jobs not regulated by the state or government — with the informal economy making up 70% of female employment in developing nations. In fragile, conflict, and violent (FCV) settings, only 2 out of 10 women are formally employed. Unfortunately, during times of economic crisis, it is always the insecure and informal jobs that are the first to disappear — leaving women without income and in a state of economic hardship. In addition to women making up the majority of informal workers, women are also more likely to work in the restaurant, travel, and hospitality industries. In the United States alone, 74% of women work jobs that rely on in-person interaction. In this new era of social distancing and lock-down orders, these face-to-face areas of business are seeing the greatest economic losses. Globally, women earn less and are most vulnerable to losing their jobs during times of crisis. We saw this in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak: women suffered much higher levels of unemployment than men, with their economic involvement still not having reached the level it was at before. In a similar manner to the Ebola outbreak’s impact on women in West Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened existing inequalities to a point where their impact will long outlast the virus itself.
Women’s health & Women in healthcare
Young girls and women have a plethora of health needs, yet across the world less than half of all females have proper access to the healthcare services or essential products to cover these needs — especially those relating to reproductive health and maternal care. As more resources are diverted to the coronavirus pandemic, fewer and fewer women have access to these essentials. During the Ebola crisis, the number of women who died during childbirth in West Africa increased by 70% as resources were reserved for patients with Ebola. While current data on this statistic is lacking, overall childbirth related deaths are trending upward. Additionally, it is estimated that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 18 million women will lose access to contraceptives due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is due to the fact that clinics are shutting down to make room for coronavirus patients. The lack of contraceptives may lead to an increase in adolescent pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Despite the lack of resources they face, women continue putting their lives on the line in the fight against COVID-19. 70% of worldwide healthcare workers are women. It has also been noted that women have less access to personal protection equipment that properly fits them, as most equipment is mass produced to the “default male” size, leaving women at a greater risk of viral contraction on the front lines. In the end, the pandemic is putting women at greater risk of coronavirus contraction as well as leaving women without proper defenses for other health disorders.
Women and life at home
The coronavirus pandemic has grossly exacerbated common problems that women have faced within their homes. Studies have shown that women on average do three times as much housework and caretaking as their male counterparts. These numbers are projected to have grown during quarantine and lock-down periods. As children are forced to stay home from school, women need to spend all day taking care of and occupying young children. Taking care of the sick and elderly also falls upon the women of the household. Within the US, 21% of all children live with only their mother, as opposed to the 4% that live with only their father. This puts these single mothers in charge of all aspects of family life, including all day childcare. A recent study from Washington University in St. Louis has shown that mothers in the US scaled back their work hours by 5% during quarantine to keep up with family needs, while fathers’ work hours remained stable. In addition to increased maternal responsibility, stay at home orders have caused a spike in domestic violence levels against women. Police reports from China show that domestic violence cases have tripled since March and reports from France show that the number of cases have gone up by 30%. The UN predicts that abusers have been exploiting a woman’s inability to leave the home in fear of having no place to safely shelter. The pandemic has put women in more stressful positions at home while at the same time showing how familial success and normality during these uncertain times is thanks to the labor of women.
Women and education
As COVID-19 cases rose, schooling across the world was halted or transitioned to online learning. Before the pandemic, an estimated 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 did not attend school worldwide. Post COVID-19, these numbers are projected to skyrocket as the pandemic forces many more girls to drop out of school to provide additional help at home or to earn income for the family. Unfortunately, once a girl drops out of school, the likelihood of her returning are slim to none, creating a permanent decline in her chances of improving her future living standards. The pandemic has also put a great strain on teachers, who are primarily women. Female teachers have historically worked longer hours and taught more classes than male teachers, and the transition to online learning has only made it more difficult for these teachers. Not only is distance learning more time consuming, but it has become a female teacher’s job to work with students during a period of high uncertainty and stress — a task that can be very emotionally consuming.
In many cases, we have seen the pandemic further exacerbate pre-existing inequalities. In the case of gender inequality, women are being disproportionately hit harder than men in almost every aspect of life. Societal stigmas and differences that have been built over centuries are defining a “woman’s role” during these uncertain times and have put the world back decades in our fight for gender equity.
Edited by Joshua Keller