1 April 2020 | News/Stories

Addressing the gendered impacts and economic implications of COVID-19

Since the first suspected case was reported to the World Health Organization in December 2019, COVID-19 has become a global pandemic, infecting close to 700,000 people and resulting in more than 30,000 deaths across 202 countries in a matter of three months. Whilst the obvious and most urgent priority of all is to save lives and prevent the virus from spreading further, COVID-19 also presents significant challenges to women’s economic empowerment.

Governments around the world have introduced quarantine and lockdown measures to mitigate risk and minimise further infection. Albeit temporarily, schools have been suspended. Businesses have either shifted to operating remotely, changed their operations, or put operations on hold. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Drastic measures help decrease the likelihood of spreading the disease, but this ‘new normal’ has altered the everyday lives of billions of people.

It has been said that COVID-19 is not gender-neutral. For instance, where sex-disaggregated data is collected, there are indications that the COVID-19 death toll for men is higher. To ensure there is a clear understanding of the gender differences of this pandemic, all regular data collection across all aspects of the pandemic must be sex disaggregated.

In addition to collecting data, it is also necessary to understand how the pandemic poses risks to women’s economic empowerment as a result of job losses, loss of livelihoods and closure of women-led SMEs due to quarantine, slowing markets and lack of access to capital and financing during this period, and how these may be different compared to men’s experience.

The gendered implications arise from the specific roles women play in response to the pandemic. COVID-19 has placed increased demands on the highly feminised healthcare sector and related industries. Globally, women comprise 70% of the healthcare workforce, and the pandemic has substantially increased the risk of these women frontline workers to exposure to the disease and to contracting the virus.

Women’s roles at work and in the home will also have an impact on their physical and mental health. The increasing numbers of employees working from home and the temporary closure of schools have likewise increased the burden of unpaid care and housework on women, exacerbated by the operation of gender norms that drive women assume a greater proportion of these responsibilities. However, the increasing number of men who also work from home has created an opportunity to reset men’s roles in the household, and for men to take an equal share of unpaid care work.

Knowing that people are working remotely from the safety of their own homes to avoid the possibility of contracting the virus would be comforting if safety was assured—which is not always the case. Women in stressful, financially challenged home environments are at risk of being exposed to domestic violence. They could also be compromising their health and well-being, especially if they are forced to juggle full-time unpaid care work and full-time employment simultaneously.

We know that women and men will be affected differently by both the health and economic effects of this pandemic.  We need to ask how our responses should meet the needs of both women and men. Staying alert to the gendered impacts and long-term economic implications of COVID-19 is essential. Gender-sensitive and proactive planning and collective action are necessary in these times. Keeping a gender-blind eye to the impacts of COVID-19 is a counterproductive way of dealing with this global crisis and will limit our chance of having a healthy, stable and sustainable future.

Learn more about Investing in Women’s innovative approaches to advancing women’s economic empowerment.

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