Ana Núñez-Lagos Wodnik is a young professional working on gender equality at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. With previous experience working in The Gambia, Senegal, Cambodia, the United Kingdom and the United States, Ana´s has worked in many multicultural environments. Her aim is to contribute towards gender equality to give women and girls equal opportunities for the sustainable development of our world.
Half of the world population is in lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis and this has global implications, including for women and girls. [i] The UN Secretary- General António Guterres has urged the world to put women and girls at centre of COVID-19 recovery[ii]. 136 Member States and Observers have ratified his appeal and reassured the world that they will put women and girls at the heart of their national responses[iii]. Most significantly, they have highlighted that women are not just victims. Instead, women are nearly 70% of frontline health and social workers and they play a critical role in curbing infection rates and enabling resilience and recovery.[iv] Additionally, women typically do three times as much unpaid care work and their work is critical to the sustainable development of all countries. [v] Now is the perfect time to work towards full gender equality to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of all.
As a result of COVID-19, a light is being shone on the disproportionate workload burden on women. Currently, with schools closed in most of the world, women are increasingly working in informal care, with the consequence of limiting their work and economic opportunities[vi]. As the burden of looking after children and the elderly grows, the resulting stress will take a disproportionate toll on women´s health and well-being. [vii] Additionally, women are more likely than men to work in sectors that have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 crisis such as retail and hospitality industries, thus resulting in higher unemployment rates and economic instability.[viii] Women’s employment rates are particularly likely to decrease in vulnerable economies, thus increasing poverty rates and exacerbating food insecurity. [ix]
Health pandemic also make it more difficult for women and girls to access health services. [x] May women lack health insurance and they typically have no social safety net to fall back on.[xi] Examples of previous pandemics, such as the Ebola pandemic, show us that infectious diseases can magnify gender inequalities. [xii] For example, rates of maternal mortality spike when access to health care is restricted. Access to contraception and other needs may also face severe fallbacks during COVID-19. [xiii] Moreover, only 23% of women in a sample across 57 developing countries report being the sole decision-maker when it comes to their own health, thus limiting their agency.[xiv]
Additionally, as abusers and victims are locked together at home under increased tension, domestic violence rates have surged in the entire world. [xv] Domestic violence increases when households are placed under the increased strains that come from security, health and money worries, and cramped and confined living conditions. [xvi] Evidence is already showing an increase in domestic violence rates and we must acknowledge this when thinking of how we can support women and girls in the workplace. [xvii] These rates will have a disastrous effect both on victims and on the economy as the estimates global cost of violence against women and girls, currently estimated at $1.5 trillion, is likely to rise. [xviii]
On the other hand, initial data shows that men are disproportionally dying from COVID-19.[xix] Although the underlying cause is unclear, early assumptions point to higher smoking rate, a difference in behavioural and biological factors among men rather than women.[xx] As much as possible, prevention efforts need to be incorporated to ensure men are less at risk. This goal might offer an opportunity for men and women to come together to share healthy habits and ensure the safety and well-being of all human beings.
With a rise in domestic violence due to COVID-19, employers must play their part in ensuring that their employees can find stability and help in their work. Putting income protection at place will play a crucial role in easing dilemmas for women while sustaining incomes and avoiding driving households into poverty.[xxi] Particular attention must be placed on the provision of accurate and supportive care and messaging[xxii]. Employers must continue to ensure a safe and POSH compliant workplace for their employees. Specific measures should be implemented to protect women and girls from sexual harassment in the home, just as it should be implemented in the workplace.
COVID-19 affects women and men in different ways. As the pandemic shines light on existing inequalities, the world should use this opportunity to address some of the key gender inequalities that are hindering the global progress towards sustainable development. The time is now to advance gender equality and ensure we are more prepared for the next global health crisis. Most importantly, we must make sure women get a seat at the decision-making table to guarantee that the needs of 50% of the population are taken into account when taking life-threatening decisions.
[i] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls
[iv] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 sends the care economy deeper into crisis mode
[v] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 and gender; What do we know; what do we need to know?
[vii] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 sends the care economy deeper into crisis mode
[xi] UN Women (2020) Women and COVID-19: Five things governments can do
[xiii] UN Women (2020) Women and COVID-19: Five things governments can do
[xiv] STATcompiler (2018) Decision maker about own health care: Mainly wife [Women]
[xviii] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls
[xix] UN Women (2020) COVID-19 and gender; What do we know; what do we need to know?
[xx] Devlin, H. (2020) Men are much more likley to die from coronavirus – but why?