Women’s voices key to COVID-19 re­cov­ery plans

Arab News - - Opinion - KERRY BOYD AN­DER­SON

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.

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