People & Money

Coronavirus and Gender:  13 Million Child Brides, More Women Jobs Lost

Also, the wave of sudden unemployment going on around the word is affecting women disproportionately. The jobs in which women tend to dominate [fashion, hospitality, retail, restaurant], have witnessed millions of job losses around the world.

The new Coronavirus is perhaps the most storied germ in history. Thanks to the internet and social media, even people who got the worst grade possible in biology have become virologists and epidemiologists. So most people know that females for some yet unknown reasons are less likely to be killed by Covid-19, the name given to the disease caused by coronavirus. What is less known is that the socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is far greater on women. Caren Grown, World Bank’s Global Director for Gender, has cautioned Governments and experts against a narrow focus on men’s higher fatality and get to grips with the many ways the pandemic is deepening the vulnerability of women.

Health

To start with, men tend to be the primary breadwinners in families across the world. Even with the ever-evolving gender dynamics of family incomes, the responsibility for financial survival still often falls more on men while more women are assigned the role of caregiver. With men 2.5 times more likely to die from the virus, many families lose their primary breadwinners. This means that the women will have to take on additional roles, doubling as both caregivers and breadwinners. This creates a crisis, as is being seen in Germany, where women who are accustomed to being caregivers are forced to juggle work with caring for children.

Millions of women in the healthcare sector play the roles of caregiver and essential worker as women make up 70% of the global health sector’s work force. They risk exposure to the virus on a daily basis so many more women than men are being infected in the healthcare sector.

The health hazards women face due to the pandemic do not end there. Due to the lockdown and closure of stores across the world, some very sensitive needs of women can no longer be met, at least not with the same urgency. According to Grown, “Women have ongoing needs for maternal and reproductive healthcare and those services may be difficult to continue in terms of crisis. With lockdowns and shutdown, women may be unable to move around and get access to those services.”

Economics:

Beyond health, the economic effects of the new coronavirus also put females at a particular disadvantage. The World Bank predicts that 60 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty. In Nigeria, analysts have raised alarm that the pandemic could expose hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families to malnutrition, hunger, child labour, child marriages, sex trafficking and many more. The link between poverty and the exploitation of young girls has been long established. In many communities, desperate poverty transforms into child brides, out-of-school-girls and young women forced into prostitution. An additional 13 million child marriages are now being expected occur this decade as a direct result of the pandemic, per estimates by the United Nations Population Fund.

Pandemics have proven to be sexist in the past. Following the Ebola outbreak, girls in Africa were reported to be dropping out of school to help their families. In post-Ebola Liberia, two-thirds of girls who left school did so due to poverty. And 40% of the girls who did continue schooling had to take on part-time jobs after school and on the weekends.

Also, the wave of sudden unemployment going on around the word is affecting women disproportionately. The jobs in which women tend to dominate [fashion, hospitality, retail, restaurant], have witnessed millions of job losses around the world. Echoing this, Grown noted that “women largely dominate as informal workers in very insecure sectors.” According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, women are one-third more likely to have worked in sectors that have now been shut down due to the coronavirus than men. In the United States, 55% of the 20.5 million people who lost their jobs in April were women. In the same month in Germany, female unemployment increased by 16%, compared to 12% for men.

Gender-Based Violence

The attendant lockdown policies enacted to slow the spread of the virus have one terrible, unintended consequence: domestic violence against women has spiked. During a broadcast to world leaders, António Guterres the United Nations Secretary-General, said, “Violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own home…we have seen a terrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

He noted that the number of women calling support services for abused women has doubled in some countries. All of this is due to the fact that many women are currently stuck in quarantine with their abusers, whom they usually would have escaped from by going to work or for other engagements outside the house. Up to 31 million gender-based violence cases are predicted to occur over the next six months if the lockdown continues.

Grown notes that the solution is to “use the crisis to take the opportunity to build back better”. This will be done by encouraging policy responses which increase women’s ability to participate maximally in the labour force while accentuating their agency and decision-making power. It is important for governments to ensure they do not cut funding from maternal, reproductive and child healthcare, as those are very essential women-run sectors which are core to the continual existence of society as we know it. Social safety net programmes also need to expand to include workers in vulnerable sectors. Policies have to target gender-specific problems which limit productivity.

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