Women’s voices key to COVID-19 recovery plans
While the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is causing suffering around the world, some groups of people are more vulnerable to its impact. Although men clearly have a higher mortality rate from COVID-19 than women, women and girls are still bearing the brunt of the impact in many ways. As an April UN report noted, “even the limited gains made” in increased rights and opportunities for women “in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.”
The pandemic is posing particular challenges for women and girls in terms of health and safety, the increased care burden, and the economic impact.
Women are often more likely than men to be front-line workers in the pandemic, increasing their potential exposure. Women make up 70 percent of health care workers globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unfortunately, they are often not well protected in these critical jobs. The UN has noted that personal protective equipment is often designed for men and may not adequately fit women. In Spain and Italy, at least earlier in the pandemic, a majority of health care workers who contracted COVID-19 were women.
Domestic violence has also increased significantly during the pandemic. Times of crisis that drive anxiety frequently lead to abusers taking out their frustrations on the women and children around them, and stay-at-home orders sometimes forced women and children to stay with abusive men. The UN has said that gender-based violence is increasing “exponentially” during the pandemic.
The pandemic and related school and business closures have also vastly increased women’s care burden. The UN estimates that women did three times the amount of unpaid care and domestic work as men before the pandemic. With schools and other child care facilities closed, many women found themselves with an impossible workload that combined their usual jobs and household work with caring for and even educating children constantly at home.
Women have disproportionately suffered from the economic impacts of the pandemic. In many less developed countries, women often work in the informal sector, which was hit particularly hard by quarantine measures and lacks job protections and benefits such as sick leave. Even in the formal sector, women earn less than their male counterparts. The World Economic Forum notes that women earn just 79 cents for every dollar men earn. Governments and communities that are forming plans for recovery from the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis must consider the impact on women if they want to succeed. Women play crucial paid and unpaid roles in economies and broader social roles, and their voices must be included in recovery plans. Recovery plans that take into account the impact on women are more likely to succeed and lead to more sustainable future economic and employment growth.
Women play a crucial role in determining how societies and economies will come out of this historic challenge. Economic recoveries will depend on women returning to work.
The extent to which the pandemic sets back progress or facilitates a strong recovery will depend, in many ways, on addressing the impact on women and their families.