By: Hira Ali
So far, statistics indicate that COVID-19 is more fatal for men; however, across the world it is women who are hit the hardest. Women remain one of the most marginalized groups in many parts of the world. In the last few weeks, the devastating coronavirus has beleaguered the world, wreaking havoc our lives, pushing us down to the most basic level of Maslow’s Hierarchy and subordinating all other needs and concerns.
Many equality champions have called out how this catastrophe will magnify existing inequalities. People who face multiple disadvantages and have fewer financial and social resources to support them are most vulnerable to any crises, and women definitely top this list.
UN Women recommends a multi-stakeholder engagement which ensures a gender-sensitive response to the coronavirus guided by women politicians, key influencers, and decision makers. Women’s voices and interests need to be reflected in the decision-making processes and outcomes predominantly led by men. Employers and trade unions representing female-dominated labor market sectors must have a say, as should women’s organizations and shelters, lest we sacrifice the significant progress we’ve made as a global community to advance gender equality.
Here’s how the virus is impacting women the most.
Last year, a research study examined whether global health policies during previous outbreaks had considered gender impact: “Across the board, gender issues were ignored.”
The gender roles women have traditionally assumed expose them to the virus more than their male counterparts, as evident from SARS cases as well as Ebola outbreaks across Africa. The World Health Organization also noted this in an earlier report, which indicated the influence of these gender roles.
Globally, a majority of health care workers are women — nearly 70% according to some estimates — and most of them occupy nursing roles on the front lines. Some of these other roles include caring for the sick, birth attendants, cleaners, laundry workers, and morticians. In these careers, risk of exposure is higher and protections are not on par with other professions.
Compounding the vast PPE shortages, standard protection gear that is available often has a unisex design that doesn’t always fit women properly and thus makes it extremely uncomfortable. Many women even lack basic feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons; according to some accounts, female nurses in China had difficulty finding these products.
Furthermore, pregnant women now have less access to antenatal care as healthcare facilities are inundated with COVID-19 patients. In many countries, fewer women than men have health insurance, and thus uninsured women have inadequate access to quality care, which produces inferior health outcomes.
In one of my recent articles, I highlight how women already face the gender pay gap. Women compose a large chunk of part-time and informal workers around the world. Such jobs are most vulnerable in times of economic uncertainty.
The workers who lose these jobs do not have the skills, nor the technology, to enable them to work from home or to retrain for other employment. Furthermore, following outbreaks, women experience more irreconcilable work breaks than men do and, while both genders face lower wages, women have found it harder to realize their pre-break earnings.
Similarly, women experience a pension deficit that later affects their retirement. Health authorities identify women over 60, single moms, and women of color as the most vulnerable groups, and the lower pension works against them, augmenting their economic dependence on men.
UN Women highlights how women that are over-represented in low-paid food production work — including agriculture and grocery store service — need additional protections for their working conditions, salaries, and access to land.
There has been much talk about women bearing the brunt of the pandemic in this regard. New research by three economists has found the productivity of female economists, measured by research papers published, has decreased relative to male economists since the pandemic began.
As highlighted in my book, Her Way To The Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling, women across the globe are suffering from intense time poverty, with time being even more elusive for working moms. And during community lockdown, if human behavior tells us anything, it’s the mom who handles most of the family needs and household responsibilities (including home schooling), all of which has disproportionately squeezed them.
In many Asian countries, these contributions are considered their cultural duty and in-line with their gender-specific role. Being mired in obligatory domestic duties without any break is making many women miserable, leaving them fatigued and anxious.
Isolation has also led to a frightening escalation in domestic violence, with calls to the UK’s national abuse hotline rising by an appalling 65%. In Asian and African countries, thousands of women often lack access to resources, hotlines, and shelters in the best of times; during the current pandemic, these shortages are exacerbated by an increasing number of assaults, and thus victims are now living in fear of when the next terrifying blow will be dealt.
Policy makers have failed to identify this link when implementing quarantine measures. The Women’s Equality Party has pushed to immediately unlock emergency funding and introduce legislation to ensure that no one seeking help is turned away from the services they need. The pandemic also poses a high risk to the homeless, and homeless women face an even greater risk of sexual assault and violence.
There been a disturbing rise in child abuse. Dr. Diahanne Rhiney from Strength With In Me Foundation (S.W.I.M) shares:
COVID-19 has heightened the risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence to children amidst intensifying containment measures.
COVID-19 has forced nearly one billion students out of school, which includes 743 million girls in 185 countries. UNESCO fears that the rising drop-out rates will disproportionately affect adolescent girls.
Girls may also find themselves caring for families while boys continue to study. This will only intensify gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, and early and forced child marriage.
For most of these children, school closures are temporary — but many girls in developing countries may never go back to the classroom, reversing tireless efforts that made their education possible in the first place.
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker, and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap, and breaking the glass ceiling. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potentialand International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. You can buy her book here.
Originally published at https://www.ellevatenetwork.com.