With each passing day, the number of cases of COVID-19 pandemic is climbing across the world. Any effective treatment or vaccine is still months away from reaching the masses and in a situation such as this, the only defenses people have against this disease are social distancing and good hygiene.
One-third of the world’s population is under severe lockdown with more people being put in home quarantine every day to contain the spread of the virus. A significant population worldwide has been affected severely by COVID-19 pandemic even if they do not have the disease and it does not discriminate against who it affects and how severely. Every person is equally vulnerable before the disease and people with previous ailments even more so.
However, the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic are the women across the world. As per the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a woman is affected thrice as much as a man due to this epidemic. A working woman with children now is working from home, doing household duties, taking care of kids and now also needs to pay attention to homeschooling her children to prevent them from having a mental breakdown from being locked inside the house all the time. This is the “triple shift”, i.e. three times the amount of stress a woman is suffering from due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many as 70% of women work in the retail, service and hospitality sector and the lockdown in majority part of the world, a large number of people have lost their jobs, out of which 60% are women. In many developing countries as in South Asia, as many as 80% of women work in non-agricultural jobs in informal employment (ILO report). These women do not have any legal security from the state to prevent them from losing their livelihood. The poorest are the worst hit. 57% of women who work part-time will lose their jobs in less than a quarter due to the economic slowdown that the virus is resulting in.
Besides the economic toll, women stuck at homes due to mandatory lockdown are also significantly vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse. A UN official reported a spike of 25-30% in domestic violence since February 2020 across the world. Young girls face a possible loss of education due to the lack of digital device making them vulnerable to early marriage and exploitative relationships. Presently, 743 million (UNWomen report) are out of school and adolescent girls are the most at risk of facing gender-based violations starting with the loss of education.
Migrants and refugees across the world are especially vulnerable because the conditions they live in make it impossible for them to practice social distancing and the lack of access to water for maintaining hygiene is another difficulty these people face. Women again are worst affected as their need for hygiene and healthcare increases during menstruation and pregnancy.
With hospitals working full-time at the highest capacity and utilizing every available medical worker to fight COVIS-19, there is a special risk for pregnant women and women with some critical reproductive ailment. (As per UNFPA) Safe childbirth while protecting the infants from possible infection from COVID-19 poses a possible threat in the developing and underdeveloped regions of the world.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to the world that every individual is equal in its eyes and in this world. The current situation has also brought has closer to work together as a single unit in this fight against an invisible enemy.
The crisis faced by women can be appeased if smart and adequate steps are taken by the communities and authorities. Most governments across the world have made it mandatory for employers to provide paid leaves to the sick and implemented laws to prevent employees from laying off workers. This will help women in handling their finances, in case they are the sole earners in the family.
Women representation in decision making about how to handle the situation at the economic, social and individual levels from local to international circles is crucial for effective measures to be orchestrated. Gender-sensitive budgeting, prioritizing healthcare, food security, education, and more is the need of the hour to not let economic and social inequality hamper the progress that the world as a whole can make in coming out of this pandemic.
It is important to not let this disease push the world back from the progress made in terms of empowering women across the world. As effectively as this situation is being handled by the government across the world, ensuring that women are not left behind in the process can be achieved easily through a fusion of equity and gender-sensitive policies.