The World Health Organisation officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
While the full impact of this pandemic cannot be fully articulated yet, evidence from previous global crises indicates that the impacts of disease outbreaks are not gender-neutral.
Crises such as pandemics and natural disasters can exacerbate already existing gender inequalities. Successful efforts to address and mitigate the consequences of the pandemic will require considerations of its gendered impacts.
Here are 3 possible gendered impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Increased Burden of Care
In many societies, women and girls are responsible for the majority of domestic work and caregiving responsibilities within the family. According to estimates, women work (both paid and unpaid) 30 minutes to one hour more per day than men.
With schools closing and turning to online learning as a measure to limit the spread of the disease, women may have increased responsibilities in caring for their children and their education. Many will also have to manage a full-time job at the same time.
The traditional caregiving role of women also goes beyond the home. Women account for the majority of health care workers in many parts of the world.
Globally, 70% of the health care workforce are women. More than 90% of health care workers in the Hubei province in China, where the virus was first identified, are women.
As such, women are at the forefront of the fight against the disease and risk exposing themselves, as well as their families, to the virus.
2. Lack of Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services
During disease outbreaks, sexual and reproductive health services are not a common priority, as resources go towards dealing with emergencies.
However, a number of organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have stated that reproductive health care, including abortions, are essential services that should remain available during emergencies.
According to the WHO’s recommendation, sexual and reproductive health care should be available regardless of a woman’s COVID-19 status:
“Women’s choices and rights to sexual and reproductive health care should be respected irrespective of COVID-19 status, including access to contraception and safe abortion to the full extent of the law.”
The consequences of lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care services can be devastating, as previous disease outbreaks show.
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the maternal mortality rate rose by 70% as maternal health clinics in the region were forced to close.
Marie Stopes International explain that in the 37 countries where they operate, COVID-19 is causing delays in production and delivery of condoms and contraceptives, They estimate that this can lead to 11,000 pregnancy-related deaths, 2.7 million unsafe abortions, and 3 million unintended pregnancies.
3. Increased Risk of Gender-Based Violence
Countries in every corner of the world are seeing an increase in reports related to domestic violence – from India to France to the United States.
In Singapore and Cyprus hotlines have seen an increase in calls of 33% and 30%, respectively. Argentina has seen a 25% increase in domestic violence-related emergency calls since the start of the lockdown.
“Domestic violence is what we’re calling a shadow pandemic… We are asking for shelters to be designated as essential services [during COVID-19] and for police to receive additional gender-sensitive training.”
As the global economy struggles through the pandemic, gender-based violence can exacerbate financial issues. Violence against women and girls costs about 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars globally.
These are just some of the many possible impacts of the current coronavirus pandemic related to gender. While authorities attempt to stop the spread of the virus, they cannot ignore the secondary impacts of this outbreak.
Fighting for the lives of those infected must remain a priority. But deaths caused by gender-based violence, unsafe abortions, and childbirth also need to be considered. Disease outbreaks and global crises tend to exacerbate existing gender inequalities. The gendered impacts of COVID-19, then, must be an integral part of current and future efforts to address this pandemic.