How the COVID-19 pandemic affects gender equality.

Source: www.coe.int

Doubtlessly, the pandemic has affected our lives on several levels. Aside from job and income insecurity or travel and meeting constraints, it has been understood that the persisting circumstances also impact the fundamental aspects of the society. Among them, gender equality has been recognised as a factor at substantial risk of regress. The World Economic Forum (WEF), the United Nations (UN), and other international organisations have agreed that the coronavirus pandemic is a major challenge for progress in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Increased domestic violence

There are many layers to the issue. The one that has been already recognised at the early stages of the pandemic was increased domestic violence against women after lockdowns were introduced nationally and people have been encouraged to stay at home.

According to Amnesty International, domestic violence around the world has increased drastically since the early months of 2020 – a phenomenon referred to as a “hidden pandemic”. Non-governmental organisations that support domestic violence victims, such as the polish “Niebieska Linia”, noted sharp increases in the number of interventions undertook between 2019 and 2020.

Of course, any statistics on the matter are always understated, considering the difficulty, either physical or related to an individual’s mental capacity and emotionality, of reporting some of the incidents. In times of a global pandemic, women, out of whom every third one experiences physical and/or sexual violence (as compared to every ninth man) (WHO), are often faced with extraordinarily dangerous situations at home.

Other forms of violence

Unfortunately, the increased gender-based violence also takes the forms of forced marriages, child labour, adolescent pregnancies, and female genital mutilation. With the main focus being the coronavirus vaccines, tests, and healthcare provision to those infected, the rapidly increasing cases of violence against women often go unnoticed, or unreported in the first place – also, because many victims and survivors withdraw their complaints “owing to economic dependency on abusive partners.” (UNHCR).

Only recently have conversations begun on the other aspects of oppression against women that have been intensified by the pandemic conditions. They include the growing inequalities in the division of responsibilities between professional work and housework. It has probably become clear by now that combining regular work with chores is a tricky task, especially for families with children, or limited space or access to the internet. What must be added on top of that, however, is that to this day, in the majority of households, women are the ones responsible for domestic tasks, whether it is cooking and cleaning or looking after the children – while often having to fulfill their job duties.

The impact of traditional gender roles

Because of traditional gender roles prevailing in many cultures and communities, women usually bear the burden of multitasking between work and the family, expected to remain caretakers of their children studying from home, while attending online meetings.
While women working from home are often struggling, females are also disproportionately represented in the most hard-hit sectors of the economy, mainly teaching and healthcare. At the same time, national recovery programmes have oftentimes failed to include them in the financial or other support schemes.

Moreover, many female frontline workers were forced to cut back on their paid work in order to take care of household chores, as is often expected of them.

As a result, the UN estimates that in 2021, additional 47 million women will fall into extreme poverty – living on less than $1.90 per day. The scale of this process indicates a significant setback on the progress achieved thus far on gender equality.

Female refugees

Another important, however, unpopular perspective is that of female refugees and their struggles during the pandemic. On top of facing physical and mental abuse, refugee women are at increased risk of gender-based sexual exploitation and trafficking. Because of pandemic-related lockdowns and travel constraints, it is harder for these women to access humanitarian help, not to mention vocational or self-reliance initiatives that would support their recovery from traumatic experiences.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, refugees, displaced, and stateless people, have had limited access to those resources. The UN Refugee Agency also points out that female refugees, like many other women from different backgrounds, are burdened with extra caregiving at home and being often unable to maintain their regular jobs, they enter the informal sector. Engaging in street vending or other unregulated jobs in the underground market makes those women immeasurably vulnerable to gender-based violence and exploitation.

Changing priorities

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted many projects, events and initiatives and the national governments’ priorities have changed drastically over the last months. That is because of the pressure that the pandemic conditions have put on the healthcare systems, funding provision, infrastructure, and overall management. It might have slipped the attention of some that this pandemic while being a non-discriminatory and exceptionally unfortunate plague that affects everyone daily, results in even more severe consequences for certain groups.

Women, who are statistically more likely to experience abuse, especially in the form of domestic violence, are often living their own version of a pandemic, being locked down with abusive partners or falling victim to an unfair division of duties, bearing an immeasurable burden of responsibility. Not only will these situations continue to directly affect women for as long as the pandemic continues, but they may also bring about long-term deterioration in the form of lower opportunities and poverty.

In times when media platforms remain absorbed with the nevertheless crucial topic of the pandemic, it is imperative that we continue to acknowledge, think and talk about gender-based prejudice and violence.

Emilia Juchno, IB2