TACOMA, Washington — On October 26, 2020, Senator Cory Booker of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations proposed S.Res.762, a resolution recognizing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women and girls globally. The resolution presents a spread of issues faced by women and girls internationally that COVID-19 has caused or exacerbated. Hoping to sway the United States’ international COVID-19 response toward more consideration of the unique challenges of women in light of the crisis, the resolution uses both statistical and moral arguments on how women and girls, especially in low-income nations, face unique challenges that need the world’s attention.
The resolution begins narrating the global impact of COVID-19 with statistics drawn from April 2020 to October 2020. In this time frame, while the entire world saw COVID-19’s effects on global healthcare services and supply chains, reproductive health and medicine took a major hit as well: an estimated 49 million women stopped using contraceptives, likely resulting in seven million unintended pregnancies and 3.3 million unsafe abortions. Additionally, 28,000 estimated maternal deaths may have resulted.
Likewise, residential lockdowns taking place in the same time frame resulted in an additional 31 million gender-based violence cases as domestic confinement leads to decreased access to legal and social services, including counseling and women’s shelters.
The Inequalities Women Face
S.Res.762 also looks at the fact that women play significant roles in the healthcare workforce, comprising 70% of health workers globally. Despite this fact, women are often paid less than males and are not prioritized for receiving personal protective equipment, disproportionately increasing their risk of COVID-19.
Funds diverted to address COVID-19 means other important health sectors that affect women are neglected. This includes maternal care, sexual health and reproductive health services.
Women and girls do three times the amount of unpaid care work than men do in homes and communities. The onset of COVID-19 means women and girls are disproportionately responsible for providing care to family members and children. This limits the ability of women and girls to perform income-generating work. It also compromises their educational pursuits and increases their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The Issue of Unemployment
Women are affected more by layoffs in hospitality, tourism and childcare as women are “overrepresented” in the informal economy. This unemployment wave results in many women turning to exploitative work to survive. As women are less likely than men to have pension, retirement savings or other assets, they have a decreased ability to “mitigate shocks” caused by the economic effects of a global pandemic.
The Impact of School Closures on Girls
Worldwide school closures have added 743 million girls to a population of 132 million girls already out of school before COVID-19. A lack of access to education, historically, exposes girls to gender-based violence, child marriage, early pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. As school is a resource for education on abuse and a pathway for reporting abusers, countless girls have now lost a protective resource.
Prioritizing Vulnerable Groups During COVID-19
S.Res.762 ends with a suggested plan of action regarding the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls. The resolution’s ending lacks the numbers-heavy, statistical presentation that the initial paragraphs have, but instead, uses a more general approach as if to keep the process more inclusive to different strategies. The resolution places the onus on all branches of government to reaffirm the importance of gender balance and inclusivity within governing powers in the extensive COVID-19 response process. The all-encompassing nature of the pandemic makes it easy to forget vulnerable populations when forming general response strategies and this resolution aims to prevent exactly that.
– Stirling Macdougall