SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 Pandemic has stopped the world in its tracks. With all eyes on the virus and its impact on the global economy, however, few have taken note of the unique impact it is having on women. Here are five ways COVID-19 is impacting gender equality around the world.
COVID-19 and Women Working in Healthcare
Recent studies show that women hold nearly 70 percent of healthcare jobs internationally. This means the majority of those fighting on the frontline of the pandemic are women. One of the key struggles these women face is a shortage of personal protective equipment due to manufacturers’ inability to keep up with the sharp increase in demand among the general public. This not only endangers the lives of female healthcare workers but highlights the disproportionate burden women must bear in combating the pandemic.
COVID-19 and Gender Equality in School Closures
Worldwide, roughly 743 million female students are currently out of school on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is having a particularly detrimental effect on young girls in developing countries where gaining access to education can already be exceedingly difficult.
Evidence from prior epidemics has proven that adolescent girls are at a higher risk of dropping out and not returning to school after a crisis. This is especially likely if the girl is from a low-income family, lives in a rural area or suffers from a disability. As many girls will not return to school after the COVID-19 pandemic. This will only further widen gender gaps in education as well as potentially lead to a rise in forced marriages and early pregnancies.
COVID-19 and Gender Equality in the Workforce
Women around the world earn less than men. Therefore, it is no surprise that women have fewer savings to fall back on amid a crisis. Compounding this is the fact that women also hold the majority of jobs in retail, hospitality and tourism internationally, which were among the first businesses to close during the pandemic. This has left them particularly vulnerable to the economic shocks that have left much of the world reeling.
In developing countries, 70 percent of women’s employment falls within the informal sector. This means they have little access to social protection, no protection from unjust dismissals and no vacation time or paid leave. As a consequence, unemployed women possess few options on how to continue to support themselves and their families.
Further exacerbating this is a decrease in childcare. Thanks to COVID-19, schools are closed internationally, as are many daycares. As social norms drop the brunt of the responsibility of child care on women, this may force many to return home to care for their children even if they had previously been labeled an essential worker.
COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence
As the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa demonstrates, women are at a higher risk of exploitation and sexual violence in times of crisis. Even outside the pandemic, researchers estimate that one in three women will experience domestic violence sometime in their lives.
Now, with a country-wide stay at home orders and the closure of businesses across the world, many women find themselves trapped at home with their abusers. This has lead to a 20 to 30 percent increase in domestic violence cases in countries like France and Lithuania.
COVID-19 and Women’s Access to Health Services
Officials often find it necessary to divert routine health services in times of crisis. Unfortunately, the health needs of women are typically the first casualty. Researchers estimate that more than 47 million women across the world will lose access to modern contraceptives during the COVID-19 pandemic. This could lead to a sharp rise in the rates of adolescent pregnancy, the spread of STDs and maternal mortality.
Furthermore, as COVID-19 continues to overload the healthcare system in many nations, this presents its own problems for women. Many health organizations that offer support to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse now run the risk of either being redirected to handling cases of COVID-19 or being overburdened by the increase of victims generated during the crisis.
What Can be Done?
Moving forward, gender equality must be a focus of COVID-19 recovery plans if women are to come out of this crisis on steady footing. This means placing a priority on addressing the needs of women at home, at the workplace, and in healthcare. Though not typically thought of as a women’s issue, COVID-19 is having a major impact on gender equality.
– Lilith Turman