The Pandemic is Not Gender Neutral

We are currently living something most of us would have never imagined, as we are witnessing the Coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing is one of the most effective strategies to fight against the virus, but it has serious effects on different dynamics and issues. Many countries, like Colombia, made this social distancing mandatory in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Adopting this measure requires that governments, both at national and at local levels, think of strategies to cope with its negative effects.

Blog_Woman with umbrella

The pandemic has a special toll on women, increasing the burden they carry. For example, Natalia Kane, UNFPA director, highlighted the risk pregnant women face, as it is unsafe for them to go to the clinic and receive maternal healthcare.[1] As the pandemic gets worse in some countries, governments could decide to divert resources from sexual and reproductive health care services in order to respond to the crisis. Many women and girls who may not have access to these services without the state’s support may find themselves without family planning, menstrual health supplies, and even maternal health care.[2]

The gender division of labor in our society also adds to the strain women live under the pandemic. With the implementation of social distancing, many women’s domestic work increases since they may oversee household chores and the care of the children or elderly relatives who live with them.[3] This adds a new job for women who continue working via home office. Women and girls do most of the unpaid care labor, according to the ILO. Globally, women perform more than three times the total hours of unpaid care work as men, representing 76.2% of total hours.[4] With social distancing measures, this will increase. Likewise, with their roles as caretakers, they could be more exposed to catching the virus, as happened during the 2014-2016 West African Ebola outbreak.[5]

I am currently taking a class about gender issues here at the University and last week our teacher asked how each family was dealing with house chores since social distancing was implemented in Colombia. Many of my classmates shared that they had divided among every house member, however, there were many comments about how the men in the family were almost oblivious to what had to be done. In some cases, the tough house cleaning chores were carried on by the mothers and daughters of the family.

Likewise, due to the gender division of labor, many women tend to work in areas related to care, such as being nurses. One working paper, Gender equity in the health workforce, published by the WHO, showed that women represent 70% of workers in the health and social sector.[6] In some regions, this figure is even higher when it comes to the distribution of female and male nurses. For example, in the Americas, 86% of nurses are women and 14% are men.[7] Yet, on average, the gender pay gap is 11%.[8] Currently, these women are on the front line attending the virus and facing a heightened risk of exposure.

Blog_figure 1

Social distancing measures are also affecting the employment situation of many people. At the time of writing in the United States, at least 16 million lost their jobs.[9]  However, this is hitting women harder, as they are currently the majority of unemployment applicants in states like New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota.[10]  In these states, women applicants increased from an estimated 13 to 35 percent above the norm.[11] Many of the jobs lost coincide with school closures and with services, such as restaurants, moving to carry-out or delivery only.[12]

Blog_female share of unemployment claimants

Service industries rely on women; as they are overrepresented in these areas, the pandemic is hitting them harder, leading to many women being laid off.[13]  To that point, in developing countries many women are employed in the informal economy, where they usually lack social protection. Many of these jobs depend on social interactions and the use of public space, which are both limited under current circumstances.[14]

The pandemic has heightened the inequalities that surround us, including the many variables that affect gender inequalities and make women and girls vulnerable. Our governments need an adequate and effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak in order to stop the virus from spreading even more. However, it also needs a social focus that includes gender-sensitive responses to minimize the burden women are experiencing from this situation. Likewise, this atypical moment we are living calls for our solidarity. If we know of women who are having difficulties to get access to sexual health supplies, and we can support her, then it is in our hands to do so. As well, if we can support women who are having a difficult time bringing income into their households and we can help her, then we should.

These are a few organizations that are currently working to support women and others during the pandemic:

  • Dress For Success: This organization is looking to support low-income women, many of whom were laid off when the pandemic started. Even though their stores are closed, they are still looking to empower women by giving them virtual tools and resources to ensure their economic stability. https://www.dfsmovingforward.org/
  • Vitamin Angels: This nonprofit helps undernourished pregnant women and babies overcome their risk of malnutrition. https://www.vitaminangels.org/
  • Chefs for America: This initiative aims to deliver chef-cooked meals to those who cannot afford it: https://wck.org/chefsforamerica
  • Care: This organization is collecting donations to donate hygiene kits and handwashing stations to places like Syria and Yemen. https://www.care.org/
  • Malala Fund: Malala’s organization is collecting donations to help reduce the impact COVID-19 is having on girls’ education, by helping to digitize Pakistan’s entire curriculum: https://www.malala.org/donate/covid-19?source=modal
  • Sex Workers Outreach Program: Sex workers are currently being impacted in a unique way by the pandemic and their living conditions might deteriorate due to this situation. SWOPUSA has a list of relief funds and fundraisers aimed to help sex workers from the USA. https://covid19.swopusa.org/relief-funds/

 

–           CC

 

Images:

Woman with umbrella: https://www.unfpa.org/news/pandemic-rages-women-and-girls-face-intensified-risks

Figure 1: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/the-coronavirus-fallout-may-be-worse-for-women-than-men-heres-why/

Graph: https://fullerproject.org/story/some-states-shows-alarming-spike-in-womens-share-of-unemployment-claims/

 

[1] Department of Global Communications. 2020. “Gender equality in the time of COVID-19”. UN NEWS. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/gender-equality-time-covid-19

[2] UN. 2020. “As pandemic rages, women and girls face intensified risks”. UNFPA. https://www.unfpa.org/news/pandemic-rages-women-and-girls-face-intensified-risks

[3] Department of Global Communications. 2020. “Gender equality in the time of COVID-19”. UN NEWS. https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/gender-equality-time-covid-19

[4] Hutt, Rosamond. 2020. “The coronavirus fallout may be worse for women than men. Here’s why”. WE Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/the-coronavirus-fallout-may-be-worse-for-women-than-men-heres-why/

[5] UN. 2020. “As pandemic rages, women and girls face intensified risks”. UNFPA. https://www.unfpa.org/news/pandemic-rages-women-and-girls-face-intensified-risks

[6] Boniol M, McIsaac M, Xu L, Wuliji T, Diallo K, Campbell J. 2019.  Gender equity in the health workforce: analysis of 104 countries. Working paper 1. Geneva: World Health Organization; (WHO/HIS/HWF/Gender/WP1/2019.1). https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/311314/WHO-HIS-HWF-Gender-WP1-2019.1-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Villarreal, Alexandra. 2020. “Coronavirus pandemic exacerbates inequalities for women, UN warns”. The Guardian: New York. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/11/un-coronavirus-pandemic-gender-inequalities-women

[10] Ibid.

[11] Scharff, Xanthe & Ryley, Sarah. 2020. “Breaking: Some States Show Alarming Spike in Women’s Share of Unemployment Claims”.  Fuller Project: USA. https://fullerproject.org/story/some-states-shows-alarming-spike-in-womens-share-of-unemployment-claims/

[12] Ibid.

[13] UN. 2020. “Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women” United Nations. https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf

[14] Ibid.

One thought on “The Pandemic is Not Gender Neutral

  1. V Hudson says:

    Wow, what a terrific post! I loved the statistics, and also appreciated the list of organizations that are helping! Thank you!

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