The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a significant impact on women and girls around the world.
From childcare and employment crises to the rise of domestic violence, women face challenges that could set gender equity back decades.
According to a United Nations statement, we must remain mindful of these negative impacts to move forward. In its report, the ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Women’, the UN analysed the pandemic’s effects on women’s lives and their living experiences. It highlights the need for the global ecosystem to create new policies to improve women’s livelihoods.
‘COVID-19 is not only a challenge for global health systems, but also a test of our human spirit. Recovery must lead to a more equal world that is more resilient to future crises. […] It is crucial that all national responses place women and girls – their inclusion, representation, social and economic outcomes, equality and protection – at their centre if they are to have the necessary impacts’
Women and COVID-19 Response Decision Making
According to the UN report and several international surveys, seven out of ten workers on the COVID-19 front line are women. However, of this majority, only a limited few participate in current and recovery response decision making.
Women Deliver, the women’s advocacy group, surveyed up to 17,000 women in 17 countries regarding their views on the COVID-19 response. According to the survey, 80% of the respondents say that women need to be more involved in healthcare response policy due to their tangible involvement in all aspects of care delivery. A further 70% believe that female intervention in terms of decision making has failed globally.
The poll cites that women only account for a quarter of decision-makers in COVID-19 response panels. Additionally, only 20% of the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee members are women. Furthermore, it’s findings detail that most women ‘wanted a greater say’ and were anxious that the pandemic had regressed progress on equal rights. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Head of UN Women, elaborates:
‘People around the world recognise that gender equality is an issue of our time and that it is an issue that has been made more urgent by COVID-19’
Evidence from the UN’s report and those from advocacy think tanks demonstrate that current policies do not include women in core decision making. The surveys also indicate that these policies could inflict unintentional danger on the global populace by not including women. As such, the UN recommends that women be ‘represented and supported’ in responses across all sectors, including economic planning, emergency policies and public health. The failure to do so could result ‘indecision making that is simply less effective, and can even do harm’.
Women and Healthcare
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for women and girls to access necessary treatment and health services.
Undoubtedly, women have unique health needs. However, the pandemic has shown that they are unlikely to receive access to necessary healthcare during global health crises. This is because intersectional inequalities, including ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, race, sexuality, and geographic location, influence decision-making that directly impacts critical information and services related to COVID-19.
The UN report finds that women in rural and marginalised communities, restrictive social norms prevent women from accessing crucial medicines, vaccines and reproductive healthcare services. In a pandemic setting, gaining access to these services proved more difficult, particularly impacting a widely spreading health crisis.
Because women make up 70% of the global health workforce, they are more likely to be exposed to the virus. In some areas of the world, women have less access to PPE or correctly sized equipment. Although women are more involved in healthcare and statistically more at risk of contracting COVID-19, many find that they are less protected than their counterparts in the frontlines.
In terms of protecting sexual and reproductive health, many women find that the pandemic has drawn focus away from providing necessary healthcare services. These include maternal health clinics and services that protect women from gender-based violence. This diversion of attention has drastically exacerbated the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity. The worst effects include the rise of adolescent pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted disease.
Women and the Economy
Beyond its effects on health, the conversation around the pandemic now focuses on economic implications. For women, the international health crisis will have a particularly profound socioeconomic effect.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, international markets and employment prospects have collapsed. Businesses were forced to scale back their operations, resulting in the loss of millions of jobs worldwide. International lockdown measures now affect 2.7 Billion people worldwide, according to the International Labour Organisation Monitor (ILO), 130 Million of whom have lost their jobs.
Further, emerging evidence shows that women are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis. Across the globe, women earn less and have less access to social protection in terms of their livelihoods. In tandem, women are more likely to be the head of single-parent households, meaning that they cannot take greater demands at work. As such, women are most often targeted by job cuts, hiring freezes and layoffs. Therefore, their ability to absorb economic shocks are less resilient than that of men.
To mitigate the worst effects of these ‘economic shocks’, the UN urges countries to pass fiscal response packages that protect women. These include providing adequate access to social insurance, cash-transfer programmes and loans in sectors where supply chains have been disrupted. Additionally, ensuring women participate in the formal labour market while narrowing gender-based education gaps will help them ‘rebound’ from the crisis; thus, ensuring more equitable and sustainable growth for the general world economy.
Women’s Well-being Beyond the Pandemic
Disruptions to critical health, economic development and humanitarian programmes have had critical effects on women’s well-being across the world. The pandemic amplifies the need for a societal response to match the scale and complexity of challenges levied against women at this time. As such, this response must be acted upon on both a national and international level. The failure to do so will significantly weaken any progress towards equality, making the entire global population more vulnerable to the impacts of future crises.
Putting women at the centre of economies, healthcare responses, and policy creation will drive more sustainable development beyond the COVID-19 crisis. The prospects of future prosperity in all sectors depend on a worldwide effort to make sure that we uphold all people, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation.
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