The COVID-19 pandemic has had immense impacts on people all over the world, and has affected groups of people differently. We're here to discuss how these impacts of the pandemic have been amplified for women and girls more deeply, simply because of their gender.
The Gendered Effects of COVID-19
This past week marked the one year anniversary of WHO officially declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, as well as entering into the first lockdown. When COVID-19 hit, the world stopped. Countries all over the world started to shut down as we all went into lockdown - something a lot of us never imagined in our lifetime. At the beginning - and you may have felt the same - we thought: "ok, we'll all quarantine for 2 weeks and then this will all go away". But then 2 weeks turned into 2 months, into the summertime, then into fall and then, well, we're still in it.
This past year has been a rollercoaster to the say the least. From learning to work from home and do school at home, to having to wear masks everywhere we go, learning and teaching better hygiene, and not being able to see family or friends on birthdays and holidays, etc. The pandemic has had immense impacts and challenges on everyone, all over the world. It has affected groups of people in different ways. One of those groups, women and girls, being among the most affected.
Here at Untangle Money, it is our mission to help women take control of their finances and be confident in their financial futures. In doing so, it is also our mission to uphold and protect women's rights. That is why we want to talk about the pandemic's impact on women around the world. According to the United Nations, "across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex". The Canadian Human Rights Commission also echoes this message, adding, "These disproportionate impacts could have long-term and far reaching consequences".
Before we dive into what these impacts are and why they are disproportionately affecting women, it's extremely important to recognize the diversity among the women impacted. It's crucial we understand how the pandemic has intensified inequalities related to gender, economic status, race, culture, language, and other intersecting identities.
So why are women affected by the pandemic differently than men?
When a crisis happens, the impacts are never gender-neutral. COVID-19, a global pandemic, is no exception. Here are some reasons why:
Women earn less money
Women tend to have fewer savings
Social protections are less accessible for women
Women are more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work (potentially resulting in dropping out of the paid labour force)
Women make up a majority of single-parent households
People who work at an office can continue to work from home and earn their salary regularly; but, domestic workers do not have the same opportunity
Increased unemployment can unfortunately encourage people to go back to traditional gender roles: men are favoured more in the hiring process when jobs are scarce, while women take on more domestic and care work.
While the implications of the pandemic affect everyone, women bear the brunt of the economic and social fallout. In fact, women make up a majority of workers in many of the industries that have been hit the hardest because of COVID-19. These include food service, retail and entertainment. UN Women states that "40 percent of all employed women - 510 million women globally - work in hard-hit sectors, compared to 36.6 percent of employed men".
How has the pandemic disproportionately impacted women?
Let's start with some quick facts:
Poor and marginalized women face a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities, a loss of livelihood, and increased violence
On a global scale, 70 percent of health workers and first responders are women; yet, they are not equal to their male counterparts: at 28 percent, the gender pay gap in the health sector is higher than the overall gender pay gap (16 percent)
58 percent of employed women work in informal employment; it's estimated that during the first month of the pandemic, informal workers - on a global scale - lost an average of 60 percent of their income
80 percent of domestic workers are women: a staggering 72 percent of domestic workers have lost their jobs
It's made clear that there has been an increase in economic insecurity as well as a major impact on education - both of which disproportionately affect women and girls.
For example, lack of education and economic insecurity also increase the risk of gender-based violence. Without sufficient economic resources, it is harder, if not impossible, for women to escape abusive partners. They also face an increased threat of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
In fact, COVID-19 has been linked to spikes in domestic violence reports and crisis calls in many countries, including China, France, and the United Kingdom. And here in Canada, women's shelters and organizations have also sounded alarms about the risk of increased violence.
There are various pandemic-related stressors that have become triggers for domestic violence around the globe, including:
Job loss and income reduction,
Fears of contracting the virus,
Increases in mental health issues and inaccessible resources,
And disrupted family routines, services, and resources.
Despite the fact that there are clear gendered implications of crises, such as COVID-19, response and recovery efforts tend to ignore the needs of women and girls until it is far too late. Action is needed now, so that the fallout is not far reaching into the future.
What can we do to help women during the pandemic?
COVID-19 has had a snowball effect on the lives of women and girls that will unfortunately last for years to come. The impacts on employment, among many other things, have long lasting consequences. The longer these go unaddressed, the more likely that hard-won gains in gender equality will be reversed, setting us back decades.
The most important thing that we can all do to help women and girls around the world, is to protect and uphold women's rights and continue the fight for gender equality. The world may still be on hold, but our activism doesn't have to be.
As we mentioned earlier, it is extremely important to understand how intersectionality plays into the impacts of the pandemic on women. The fallout will be most severe for the most vulnerable women among us. These women are migrant workers, refugees, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, single-parent mothers, youth, and the world's poorest. Our work toward gender equality, now and after the pandemic, must be intersectional to ensure that women and girls from all backgrounds around the world are receiving the help and protection they need, and deserve, going forward.
Here in Canada, the Canadian Women's Foundation is a great resource to use to help support women during the pandemic. The foundation is also working with the Government of Canada to deliver emergency funding to some services, as well as advocating for a gendered lens on policies implemented during and after the pandemic.
Another great way to help women during the pandemic is to start a conversation about gender inequality with your friends and family. A lot of these gendered impacts from COVID-19 may go unnoticed or not seem relevant to some people. But talking about gender inequality, having these conversations and unpacking the "how" and "why" this happening, as well as continuing to educate yourself and others, are all crucial.
Are there any good things that have happened for women during the pandemic?
In the face of COVID-19 and a trying year, not all hope was lost. This past year has also seen many amazing strides taken in furthering women's rights and gender equality. For example, research shows that in countries led by women leaders, responses to the pandemic were quicker, more effective, and stronger. So, on a more positive notes, we want to end off this blog post with some good things that have happened for women this past year, despite COVID-19.
The United States of America elected its first woman Vice President, Kamala Harris - who is also of African American and South Asian descent (more firsts for the Vice Presidency)
People all over the world gathered together and rose up to protest police violence and racial injustice
Scotland became the first country to allow free, universal access to menstrual products and New Zealand announced they will offer free menstrual products in schools nationwide
Unpublished research from academics at 3 Canadian universities found that although most families reported very little change in how household chores were divided, a substantial amount stated that things had become more equally split
The notion of "flexibility" in the workforce, which was not backed by many businesses pre-pandemic, has now become a key consideration - if done right, flexible working will be a game-changer for women's careers
In Afghanistan, the President signed a new law that states that for the first time, mothers will be named on their children's birth certificates and identification cards
Brazil and Sierra Leone have joined Australia, England, Norway and New Zealand in publicly committing to equal pay for women and men footballers
Kuwait issued a new law on protection from domestic violence, following years of activism from Kuwaiti women's rights groups
Nanaia Mahuta became the first Indigenous woman appointed as Foreign Minister of New Zealand
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