Gender and COVID-19: Where Can Research Help?

Gender and COVID-19 - While the mortality rates for men are higher, women are disproportionally affected by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic
  • Opinion by Jemimah Njuki (nairobi)
  • Inter Press Service

While the mortality rates for men are higher, women are disproportionally affected by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Indeed, there is evidence that pandemics affect men and women in different ways, and COVID19 is no different.

Women are facing higher risks of infection compared to men due to their large numbers in the health sector. The health and social sector, with its 234 million workers, is one of the biggest and fastest growing employers in the world, particularly of women.

Women comprise seven out of ten health and social care workers and contribute US$ 3 trillion annually to global health, half in the form of unpaid care work. Health workers continue to be exposed to the virus due to lack of basic protective equipment.

The care work burden which disproportionality falls on women has increased with the pandemic. In addition to women making up most of health-care workers, women are overwhelmingly the primary caretakers in their families.

As schools have closed, as COVID 19 measures, which require services and activities mainly done by women, such as requirement for water, women have found themselves with a bigger workload.

Gender based violence has increased as families find themselves in lockdowns with low economic security and feeling of helplessness. For example in France, domestic violence cases went up by 30% during the lockdown, while calls to the domestic violence line in Argentina went up by 25%.

New research has shown the multiple pathways between pandemics and gender based violence. Recently, UN chief António Guterres called for measures to address a "horrifying global surge in domestic violence" directed towards women and girls linked to lockdowns.

The economic impact of COVID-19 has hit women harder, as more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are likely to compromise women's ability to make a living and meet their families' basic needs, and access much needed sexual and reproductive health and maternal health services.

In addition to understanding these kinds of gender differences at times of pandemics like COVID-19, research can play a much more long-term role.

Indeed, it can play a critical part in documenting and studying the long-term impacts of the pandemic and suggesting ways to ensure that systems protect women and girls during pandemics. This is how.

First, research can help understand, test and scale interventions that build the economic and social resilience of women and girls, as well as provide evidence on how programs can be designed to cope with and minimise the gendered impacts of future pandemics.

For example, unconditional and conditional cash transfers that aim to shift power imbalances by targeting women are likely to be important design features for reducing gender based intimate partner violence. While these have been studies out of pandemics, research during pandemics can help understand the impacts and potential adaptations of these programs.

Second, while the focus with COVID 19 has been on the negative impacts on women's workloads  and women's rights, pandemics can bring much desired shifts in gender roles and responsibilities.

The key question is how to sustain these changes long after the pandemic has passed.  Understanding how short-term pandemic-induced changes in gender roles and responsibilities can be sustained over a long time can generate evidence on pathways to equitable role sharing within households.

For example, the Spanish flu disproportionately affected young men, which in combination with World War I, created a labor shortage gap that was filled by women, entrenching women's right to work.

Third, research can provide insights that inform a more gender sensitive and effective response to epidemics. While there has been a focus on the role of social sciences in understanding and managing pandemics, there has not been enough application of a gender lens to this research.

For example, understanding how men and will be affected in different ways before pandemics occur, how proposed management and response measures will affect them and can be designed to have positive outcomes, and even understanding the power dynamics and how they will affect response are all key areas of research.

And finally, research and researchers can play a role in ensuring the collection and analysis of age and sex disaggregated data both so that the needs and realities of men and boys, women and girls women's do not fall through the cracks.

As we address the very immediate needs of different groups in the pandemic, let us also invest in long term gender research that ensures there is no disproportionate impact of pandemics, especially on women and girls and that their voices are heard.

Dr Jemimah Njuki is an Aspen News Voices Fellow and writes on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Follow her @jemimah_njuki

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service