The impact of Covid-19 on Women
COVID-19 had an impact on the lives of everyone globally. But, as certain cases report, women faced a greater impact. Women were more vulnerable to COVID-19 related effects because of the existing gender inequalities (Madgavkar et al., 2021). They lost their jobs because of their lower status, while many gave up their jobs because of the over pressuring household work. They held the responsibility of the major household work but at the same time had to face violence in many forms from abusers who they got locked with in their unsafe house (Policy Brief: UN, 2020). There is a decline in access to education and healthcare services for women. Overall, they have faced the brunt of the pandemic.
Spread over 6 continents, COVID-19 is responsible for over 4.7 million deaths (Statista, 2021). The entire world economy was impacted due to disruptions in international trade links. It has rendered 147 million people unemployed due to pandemic and associated lockdowns (I., 2020). Further, the pandemic has had a regressive impact on gender inequality and women had to face a greater effect of the social and economic fallouts whether it comes to employment, heath or domestic life. The pandemic has created a profound shock with different implications for men and women. Women serve on the frontlines against COVID‑19, and the impact of the crisis on women is stark as they make up around 70% workers in healthcare. Women further face a major burden as they continue to do the majority of unpaid care work in households, face high risks of economic insecurity, violence, exploitation, abuse or harassment during times of crisis and quarantine (OECD, 2020). Further, the shutting down of schools led to an increased number of girls being denied education.
Worldwide, the work life of people has been affected negatively. An analysis from McKinsey found that the livelihood and work life of a woman was more vulnerable to the pandemic. Women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than that of men (Madgavkar et al., 2021). The pandemic has caused a global recession, having disproportionate effects on women because they earn less, mostly have insecure jobs and are mostly employed in the informal sector (Policy Brief: UN, 2020). 4.2% of women's employment was eliminated compared to only 3% of men. Not only have they been hard hit by the pandemic but also their employment recovery is likely to not recover to the level of the pre-pandemic scenario (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2021).
There is also fear of gender employment gap since the status of women is lesser as compared to men making them easier to lay off. This gender gap is rising in developing countries where still a majority of women are employed in the informal sector, (about 70%) where they have less secure jobs and low social protection (OECD, 2020). The global gender pay gap is 16% with women paid around 35% less than men for the same work in some countries (OECD, 2020).
The lockdown had made it difficult for women and girls to get the basic health care facilities. Many women and girls were cut off from sexual and reproductive health care services. Pregnant women too found themselves with only a few options for health care as the support seemed to be diverted to COVID-19 patients (MSF, 2020). Further, women make up to 70% of the health care force exposing them to a greater risk of the virus but despite that only a minority are in any leadership positions. It is because of the persistent gender inequalities that a woman’s income, business and other boundaries are more exposed to economic fallouts and the occupational sex segregation that they are more exposed to this virus. (OECD, 2020).
Even in households they were the one responsible for taking care of the family members further exposing them to the risk of contracting the virus. A decline in clinic visits was also reported (MSF, 2020). Huge burden of responsibilities on their head because of the undivided household work and there were cases of women who faced some sort of violence at home with struggling access to health care (Policy Brief: UN, 2020). This led to relatively unnoticed adverse effects on the mental health of women as well.
Extra care work
Women are more likely to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours than men during the pandemic mainly due to care responsibilities of their households (Thériault, 2021). Women also have to handle most of the unpaid care work. They maintain the daily life that is built on invisible and unpaid work of women and girls, they take care of the needs of most of ill family members and with children not going to school due to lockdown their workload intensified (OECD, 2020). Due to social norms the demand for unpaid care work fell more heavily on women resulting in constraining their ability to work. Even now because of lack of support and aftermath of pandemic they are not able to stand up on their feet again so easily.
Escalation of violence against women
With restriction of movement due to lockdown violence against women and girls has seen a global rise. There has been a spike in reports for domestic violence including sexual violence against women during the pandemic, with some women being trapped at home with their abusers (MSF, 2020). Reduced support and limited access to support and services are aggravating these conditions (OECD, 2020). The restrictions have made it harder for victims to get help. At the same time, greater internet use during the pandemic has increased online gender-based violence and the online sexual abuse of children and especially girls (European Parliament, 2021). The reports of violence against women has increased to about 25% while in some countries, it doubled, and with no access to privacy women have trouble seeking for help or call services. The inability of women to go out on the streets with nowhere to go or call for help is being exploited by abusers while police and services have too shifted their priorities and are unable to help (OECD, 2020). Unfortunately, for women during lockdown home was not a safe place.
UNESCO estimated that about 11 million girls belonging to the age group 12-17 are at a risk of not returning back to school in low and lower-income countries (UNESCO, 2021). For girls belonging in low-income households or rural areas, the barrier to education has heightened. There have been cases reported of child marriage where girls were married off in exchange of money due to the economic instability of families during pandemic (Pfunye, 2021). In some countries in Africa, there was a significant increase in teenage pregnancies due to closure of schools. This deterioration in access to education can also roll back the efforts made so far to achieve gender equality since the burden of household work expected to be done by women is growing, taking away their freedom (Pfunye, 2021).The decline in enrollment of girls in schools is causing a loss in learning and education which can lead to a reversal of all the achievements made so far to bridge the gap between men and women(A. Href, 2021).
The impact of COVID-19 while has impacted everyone but a greater burden falls on women. Not just economically, but in almost every aspect. There is a failure to recognize the needs of women. Government and international organizations should aim to bring out policies to empower women and strengthen their voice. Against all the domestic, sexual and gender based violence there is a heightened need to protect women and prioritize the long term effect of this set back in a woman’s life to help them balance professional and personal life (Council of Europe, 2021). In order to make women economically independent, more focus should be put on the upliftment of women after this crisis, so that at least those who lost their jobs can get back up on their feet.