BOSTON, Massachusetts — Humanitarian crises of any kind almost always disproportionately affect women and girls. It is also known that, in particular, “crises exacerbate gender inequalities.” COVID-19 is no exception. Globally, it has had widely disparate effects on women and girls compared to men. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate acknowledges that COVID-19 impacts women in a disproportionate way and has proposed actions to address the pandemic’s effects on women in particular.
The Gendered Impact of COVID-19
One of the reasons why crises cause disproportionate harm to women is that unusual and especially stressful conditions often cause an increase in gender-based violence. Crises and the subsequent times of disorder often leave women and girls more vulnerable, and any disruption of power will inevitably result in individuals who abuse that power. Not unlike war, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant increase in gender-based and sexual violence. U.S. Congress reports more than 30 million more incidents of gender-based violence globally in the first six months of lockdown. Its definition of gender-based violence includes domestic abuse, child marriages, genital mutilation and more.
Beyond violence, the pandemic has also exacerbated gender inequality in education, another longstanding global issue worsened by crises. School closures affect low-income countries far differently than they do wealthier countries. At least one-third of school-aged children in the world do not have access to remote education tools, meaning they have received little or no education since the start of closures.
In countries where girls have less access to education under normal circumstances, this will likely be more devastating. Many of them will not return to school or will have lost out on a significant fraction of their total education. Malala Fund research estimates that 20 million schoolgirls in developing nations may never return to school due to COVID-19.
The resolution S.Res. 95 outlines several distinct ways that COVID-19 impacts women disproportionately. From disruption of reproductive healthcare services to an increase in the unpaid care work women are expected to do, there are many issues that urgently need to be addressed.
How S.Res. 95 Helps
On March 4, 2021, Senator Booker from New Jersey introduced S.Res. 95: a resolution recognizing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and girls globally. In addition to recognizing how COVID-19 impacts women, the resolution further resolves to support measures that will provide health services and food security to women globally. It concludes with support of the U.S. making “robust funding contributions” to the global COVID-19 response and urges the executive branch to address the disproportionate access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines for women and girls globally.
If this resolution passes, low and middle-income countries will be able to get back on track with the gender equality goals that they have been working toward. Providing reproductive health services, reducing gender-based violence and providing equal access to education for girls have been focal points of policy in developing nations for some time now and many have made significant progress.
The US as a Global Leader
COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls and threatens to undo some of this progress. But, it is not too late. If the U.S. provides support and funding, marginalized women globally will receive protection and prioritization that will enable them to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. The introduction of this resolution has raised awareness about a significant issue. Through passing S.Res. 95, the U.S., as a global leader, will once again be leading the way to ignite world change on yet another pressing global issue.
– Samantha Silveira