Gender differences exist with regard to the mortality and vulnerability associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though a majority of people dying from the virus are men, the pandemic weighs heavily on women in terms of health, social, and economic consequences. Pandemics weigh heavily on women because during such crisis, they struggle to balance work and family responsibilities, their reproductive health is restricted, and increased domestic violence targeting women locked with their abusers at home becomes rampant.
Differences in the Effects of Pandemics on Men and Women
Pandemics affect women and men differently. While pandemics affect every individual’s economic status, the rate of economic recovery is faster in men than women. As evidenced in past pandemics, compared to women, men’s incomes often return to their normal state, that is, before the onset of pandemics, faster (UN Women 2020). In particular, the social and economic burden imposed by pandemics is heavier on women than on men. For example, pandemics force men, women, and children to stay at home further burdening women to balance between new models of work and household chores like cooking and cleaning. Married men, on the other hand, are free to work from home without engaging in household chores. UN Women (2020) demonstrates that during pandemics, women do more at home more than men. Notably, the responsibility of feeding and entertaining members of the family largely falls on them. Moreover, the spread of pandemics often prompts governments to issue directives that close schools and day-care facilities. Thus, women are forced to offer additional care to children who previously spent their days in schools and day care centers. These facilities are often closed during pandemics. Notably, when child care becomes more challenging, women tend to be marginalized even further in the gender equality discussions.
COVID-19 Weighs Heavily on Women
The novel coronavirus weighs heavily on women health workers on the front-line in the fight against the virus. Women have increased risk of exposure to the COVID-19 due to their disproportional representation among health care workers as compared to men. “The women constitute the vast majority of health workers as 70 percent of health care workers around the world are women” (UN Women 2020). The women health workers offer essential medical services as midwives, nurses, and community health workers whose responsibilities require close contact with infected and potentially-infected patients thus exposing them to the virus. That the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is inadequate puts these individuals at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Female health workers are disadvantaged in workplaces as the gender balance and prioritization of men over women affects decision-making regarding the distribution of PPEs (UN Women 2020). The prioritization of men over women in PPE distribution further exposes more women to infections as they comprise a vast majority in the medical workforce. The coronavirus has caused panic around the world, and the health care workers are facing risk of infections, especially women providing primary care responsibilities in their families. The fear of infecting close-family members is thus a concern for women health workers.
Women face the risk of deteriorated sexual and reproductive health because health care systems have diverted resources meant for reproductive health. Resources meant for women’s reproductive health are currently used to address the coronavirus pandemic. “Countries and their respective health care systems have focused attention on dealing with the pandemic at the expense of providing sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls” (United Nations 2020:7). Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, women require family planning, menstrual supplies, and maternal health care services among other reproductive health needs. Notably, pregnant mothers in need of regular antenatal care are the worst affected because dedicated care specialists are actively involved in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients that expose the women in antenatal, neonatal, and maternal health departments to hospital-acquired infections. The fears of pregnant women getting infected in hospital greatly affect the effectiveness of medical services during a pandemic.
Consequences of the Pandemic on Women and Gender Equality
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased cases of domestic violence targeting women. United Nations (2020) affirms that intimate violence involving women and abusive partners has exponentially increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. While men encounter domestic violence, women comprise the vast majority of victims. Some men have been reported to threaten their spouses due to stress and frustration occasioned by the economic impacts of the pandemic. Godin (2020) contends that female victims displaying flu-like symptoms face the threat of being locked out of their homes by their abusers. Alongside the increase in the number of women suffering from domestic violence, the COVID-19 has created abusive situations in which women and girls are restricted by their abusers from seeking for support from friends and organizations that fight against domestic violence (United Nations 2020:13). Moreover, support systemspolice officers are actively involved in enforcing governments’ directives on curfews and lockdowns. Consequently, they are unable to offer the needed response to the rising cases of domestic violence and abuse. Similarly, health care specialists are overwhelmed in providing care and support to COVID-19 patients due to various factors such as increased number of patients and understaffing. These medical practitioners cannot, therefore, provide prompt counseling and treatment services to victims of domestic violence.
Women are poised to suffer compounded economic impacts, especially those earning less, saving less, or are holding insecure jobs. The women currently earning less and saving less are mostly employed in the informal sector. Such women have less social protection in the informal sector, thus reducing their capacity to absorb economic shocks. “The social isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has increased care demands at home” (Wenham, Julia and Rosemary 2020: 847). The new model of working from home proposed by governments, as a strategy for curbing the spread of the virus, is challenging for women as they struggle to focus on work demands due to consistent distractions at home. The struggle encountered by women is likely to disproportionately affect them through massive job cuts and lay-offs. Men, on the other hand, continue to work seamlessly as they are unaffected by domestic distractions. United Nations (2020) report that the challenges encountered by women working from home, as well as lay-offs and job cuts, are negating the gains already made in female labor force participation.
School closure further strains on women and girls with regard to provision of unpaid care to children. Notably, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in the provision of formal and informal care by teachers and care-givers still confined in their homes. Before the pandemic, school teachers and day-care care-givers offered paid-care services to children as their mothers concentrated at work. However, due to the pandemic, the responsibility of offering unpaid childcare services is slowly falling on women. “In normal situations, women often fulfill averagely three times unpaid care and domestic work than men” United Nations (2020:9). The increase in unpaid care is already straining women’s ability to work, especially with regard to work responsibilities that cannot be done remotely. The increased unpaid care responsibilities compound pressure on women, as well as escalate the challenges they encounter in the workplace.
The women’s mental health has been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Particularly, social norms regarding the perceived responsibility of women in caring for an entire family is already affecting their emotional and social functioning. The society has traditionally placed the responsibility of child caring on women (United Nations, 2020). With additional caring responsibilities at home, women are struggling to meet employment demand such as punctuality during virtual meeting when working remotely. The failure to meet employment demands has repercussions on women through lay-offs translating to lost incomes. Hence, women’s mental health is adversely affected due to the financial strain resulting from lost incomes, as well as social norms that have increased care-giving responsibilities.
Pandemics affect men and women differently. Pandemics often amplify the existing gender inequalities. Even though men’s incomes are also affected during pandemics, they tend to recover the lost or missed incomes faster than women. Even so, pandemics like coronavirus weigh heavily on women as they struggle to balance works and domestic responsibilities. Additionally, the women’s reproductive health services are restricted because health care systems tend to divert health care resources to curb the pandemic. The women equally suffer from increase domestic violence having been confined by their male abusers. Finally, the mental health and wellbeing is affected due to lost incomes, as well as increased societal demands placed on them.
Godin, Melissa. 2020. As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out. Time.com. Retrieved May 9, 2020. https://time.com/5803887/coronavirus-domestic-violence-victims/.
UN Women. 2020. Paying Attention to Women’s Needs and Leadership Will Strengthen COVID-19 Response. UN Women. Retrieved My 9, 2020. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/3/news-womens-needs-andleadership-in-covid-19-response.
United Nations. 2020. Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women. United Nations. Retrieved May 9, 2020. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en.pdf
Wenham, Clare, Julia, Smith and Rosemary, Morgan, 2020. “COVID-19: The Gendered Impacts of the Outbreak”. Lancet. 395(10227): 846-848.