The Impact of COVID-19 on Women – Part 1

By Isha Titulaer-Ahmady

 

This is the first of a series of blog posts on the impact of COVID-19 on women. This article will outline the main issues of importance. The upcoming posts will focus on case studies of the impact of COVID-19 on women in several countries from which the Shelter City project has received a human rights defender, and on possible measures that can be taken to solve these issues.

 

COVID-19 will impact the lives of everyone on this planet in the coming years For fragile states that were already facing numerous challenges, such as weak health care systems, weak institutions, fragile economies, inequalities, other crises or conflicts, the current crisis only exacerbates these problems. In such situations, parts of the population that already face discrimination or inequality are extra vulnerable. Women are one such group. They are hit by the COVID-19 crisis in terms of their rights, safety, income, health, education, and food security. This article introduces some of these gender-specific impacts of COVID-19 on women.  

 

Political Impact

Some oppressive regimes, such as that of Russia and Iran, hide the true extent of the pandemic in their countries by attributing deaths to secondary causes. Some politicians downplay COVID-19, comparing it to the flu (like Bolsonaro in Brazil) or spreading disinformation (like Trump in the USA). Journalists covering the pandemic are targeted under the guise of combating misinformation.1 Activists who are under attack face a dilemma during a lockdown: moving around puts them in danger of the virus, but staying in one spot makes them vulnerable to detection by state forces. Technology to combat COVID-19 (social distance apps, thermal cameras, etc.) could become a tool of oppression and surveillance, if robust legal safeguards against data misuse are lacking.

 

The responses of governments to the pandemic oftentimes exclude the specific risks that women face during a lockdown. Amnesty International’s Guidelines for African States during COVID-19 report states that governments must ensure that their response guarantees women’s rights “to live free of gender-based discrimination and violence, and to access essential sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information.”2

 

Domestic Violence

There is a rise in gender-based violence and intimate partner violence due to increased economic and social stress in the household because of the lockdown, combined with reduced access to psychosocial support and protection. In this situation, children can also be exposed to violence. The lockdown could be used as a pretext for perpetrators of abuse to exert power and control over their partners by restricting access to financial and emotional support, health care and health information.3

 

Economic Impacts

The COVID-19 crisis has put more economic pressure on women for two reasons. Firstly, many women are doing more unpaid care work and domestic work due to the pandemic, because their children are home due to school closures, older relatives need more care and health services are overwhelmed. This could result in reductions in working time and greater burdens at home. Secondly, women are over-represented in the hardest hit sectors, namely the retail, travel, leisure, hospitality and the informal sectors. These jobs tend to be low-wage or insecure, without formal social security measures or the ability to telecommute. Consequently, women are more vulnerable to job losses, especially as resources become more scarce.4

 

Impact on Women’s Health

A larger share of women are frontline social and health care workers and caregivers at home, which puts their physical and mental health more at risk. Health resources and priorities are reallocated to battle COVID-19, leading to limited access to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health services, support programs and hygiene and sanitary materials.5

 

Impact on Female Education

COVID-19 could force girls to drop out of school, because of care work or the financial situation at home. Social and gender norms privilege boys in terms of education. Girls may have to contribute to the household income or have to do domestic tasks, and therefore have less time for home study.
According to Plan International, adolescent girls dropping out of school will only “exacerbate gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, and child, early and forced marriage”.6

 

Food Security

Food will likely become more scarce and expensive during a pandemic. The WFP gives food assistance to 87 million vulnerable people. The number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise to 265 million this year. Hunger leads to a greater risk of illness and death. The food and crop production will be lower if farmers cannot access their fields, do not have the money to buy seeds or food for their animals. Women have to go outside to collect water and to buy food from crowded markets. For that reason, they are more exposed to the virus and can become ill, with the risk that they can no longer take care of their families.7

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has a social and economic impact on women worldwide. NGOs and governments should take emergency and long-term measures to help them and prevent greater gender inequalities.

 

The next article will describe several problems that occur in countries from which the Shelter City Maastricht project has received a human rights defender, and will focus on how the pandemic specifically affects women there. Concrete actions must be taken to support women. For that reason, initiatives and measures to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on women will also be examined.

 


1. Reporters Without Borders (n.d.). #Tracker_19: Live updates of Covid-19 impacts of press freedom. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/en/tracker19-Coronavirus-Covid19.

2. Amnesty International (2020). Guidelines for African States to protect the rights of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr01/2285/2020/en/.

3. United Nations (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women. Retrieved from https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women.

4. United Nations (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women; The World Bank (2020). Brief April 10 2020 Gender and COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender/brief/gender-and-covid-19-coronavirus.

5. CARE International (2020). Gender Implications of Covid-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings. Retrieved from https://www.care-international.org/search?term=gendered+implications+of+covid+19: The World Bank (2020). Brief April 10 2020 Gender and COVID-19 (Coronavirus); United Nations (2020). Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women; United Nations Population Fund (2020). COVID-19: A Gender Lens. Retrieved from https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens.

6. CARE International (2020). Gender Implications of Covid-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings; The World Bank (2020). Brief April 10 2020 Gender and COVID-19 (Coronavirus); Plan International (n.d.). How will COVID-19 affect girls and young women?. Retrieved from https://plan-international.org/emergencies/covid-19-faqs-girls-women.

7. CARE International (2020). Gender Implications of Covid-19 Outbreaks in Development and Humanitarian Settings.; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (n.d.). Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/en/; Khorsandi, P. (2020, April 22). WFP chief warns of ‘hunger pandemic’ as Global Food Crises Report launched. World Food Programme Insight. Retrieved from https://insight.wfp.org/wfp-chief-warns-of-hunger-pandemic-as-global-food-crises-report-launched-3ee3edb38e47 World Food Programme (n.d.). COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.wfp.org/emergencies/covid-19-pandemic; World Food Programme (2020). COVID-10: Potential impact on the world’s poorest people. Retrieved from https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114205/download/.