It has been months since the pandemic begun, and it is now becoming clear the chasms and cracks forming, resulting in some parts of population being significantly and tragically more affected than others. Research has gone on to show that women are bearing a major and disproportionate burden within the crisis (UN Women, 2020). This is due to how this COVID-induced recession disproportionately falls on women more than men, coupled with added unpaid labour requirements demanded of the feminine role, and lastly, growing and alarming levels of intimate partner/domestic violence and femicide during lockdown measures. All these will be qualified later within the article, however this piece hopes to offer up a tad bit more than your typical depressive list of COVID-19 facts…
Firstly and most importantly for now, it offers a practical and real-time solution that one person (perhaps the person reading this) can be a part of in response to what the UN has dubbed the “shadow pandemic” (Gilligan, 2020). A term coined for the horrifying numbers of women abused and/or killed this year by an intimate partner or family member.
And then secondly, to question why we have regressed so far, so quickly, in terms of gender equality efforts. Spoiler alert, it isn’t really COVID’s fault. This piece calls on us to rather look a little deeper at our own place within these social constructs. For us to create space for a nuanced dialogue to better equip us in understanding these unjust structures. Structures which, when pressure is placed upon them, have clearly shown to bring about dreadful and lasting effects.
COVID IN ECONOMIC TERMS has seen more women than men become unemployed and at risk, with women's jobs 1.8 times more vulnerable to the crisis than men (Madgavkar et al., 2020). The current pandemic-induced recession - dubbed the ‘she-cession’- largely targets industries where women work (Wenham, 2020). Women are also more likely to be in part-time and precarious work- coined by instability, less social protections and lower pay (Fabrizio et al., 2020).
Studies have also shown a dramatic increase in unpaid labour, with once again a disparate burden falling upon women, determined largely by their traditional role as “carer” (UNDP, 2020). An already uneven distribution of unpaid labour between genders (on average women racking up 75% of the global total unpaid work) has become starker by way of CODIV-19 restrictions, school closures and intensified demand of care work in a health crisis (Madgavkar et al., 2020). This increase in unpaid and unrecognised labour hours is correlated to more women dropping out of the workforce, with studies predicting long-term affects for women’s careers, pensions, and for future economic growth (Fabrizio et al., 2020).
On top of the purely economic repercussions, studies further reveal how the intensification of what scholars coin women’s third shift (work, homecare and emotional labour), has been correlated with worsening mental health. Research is already revealing levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems to affect women in higher numbers in comparison to men amidst the pandemic (Wenham, 2020).
COVID IN SOCIETAL TERMS is witnessing an alarming increase in violence against women, femicide and decreasing access to sexual and reproduction health services. Whilst domestic violence is notoriously hard to monitor, help and support hotlines have noted a 20-60% increase in calls since the beginning of the pandemic (Wenham, 2020). Femicide- legally defined as murder based on gender- is a global phenomenon affecting rich and poor, and ethnically diverse nations alike. Recent reports from Germany demonstrate that every day a man attempts to kill an intimate or ex-partner, one of three being successful in their attempts (Goldenberg, 2020). And with stay at home orders, it is harder for victims of violence to get access to authorities, helplines, shelters and safe accommodation; as well as fewer police interventions and lock-up measures for accused perpetrators (Gilligan, 2020).
On top of this, access to sexual and reproductive health has been met with varying levels of difficulty due to diversion of resources, access to PPE and lockdown measures. Limited access to contraception or clinics can lead to dire consequences, especially for those in lower-income or marginalised groups, or those with disabilities (Wenham, 2020). Some countries have even used the pandemic as an opportunity to reverse women’s reproductive and sexual health rights thanks to the ban on public gatherings and citizens ability to protest within the crisis.
THIS IS NOT A WOMEN PROBLEM NOR A PURELY WOMEN SOLUTION… but a societal and political problem. Furthermore, these issues are not new. COVID has merely exposed the deep-rootedness of these gendered issues and given it gas by virtue of ensuing economic pressure, a climate of instability and restricted mobility (Gilligan, 2020).
What is needed is a fundamental questioning of the roles and relationships we have with one another as gendered subjects. Whether these are economic, political, or social/relational, a dialogue regarding widely accepted versions of what role both a man and a woman are expected to ‘successfully’ fulfil is necessitated. These social inventions have led to where we are today, from more “innocent” behavioural associations of masculine and feminine. To then much more dangerous places, where for example, when we talk about domestic violence, we immediately relate it to men as perpetrators and women as victims
It must be made inextricably clear that women have agency and are not merely victims in all this. However, just like Racism is not a problem people of colour must alone take responsibility to solve. These gendered issues are not something women are to take sole responsibility for either. Rather, it is a complex and interrelated mix of power inequalities, and deeply entrenched and skewed social structures- to be addressed in a committed and sustained effort by all, for the benefit of all.
ONE SMALL EFFORT WE CAN MAKE TODAY beyond important conversations and uncomfortable questions, is to engage with an organisation the Kate Diaries has been partnering with since 2019. Papatya in Berlin is an Organisation helping young women from various backgrounds find refuge from precarious home environments and arrangements of forced marriage. This essential work allows women to find autonomy and escape from under repressive and dangerous home situations. With most girls fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their back and an unassailable courage, this is but a small gesture of compassion and collective humanity. As such, the Christmas appeal is seeking small donations of the below list of goods or a small monetary donation in the purchase of these goods.
Please find a link to the all the wonderful work the organisation does at http://www.papatya.org and if you are interested in participating please email here at the Kate Diaries or email@example.com. Together, in small and in large ways, through our voices, our resources and our varying levels of privilege and power, we can use the lessons from this pandemic to root out some now very visible faults in our society for the better.
- Young women’s clothing in different sizes
- Makeup and cosmetics
- Sanitary items and basic necessities
- Bed linen, towels, blankets
Fabrizio, S., Malta, V.M. & Tavares, M., 2020. COVID-19: A backward step for gender equality. [Online] Available at: https://voxeu.org/article/covid-19-backward-step-gender-equality[Accessed 26 November 2020].
Gilligan, F., 2020. The 'Shadow Pandemic': Rising Femicide and Gender-based violence rates during COVID-19. [Online] Available at: https://lawspring.org/the-shadow-pandemic-rising-femicide-and-gender-based-violence-rates-during-covid-19-860c3b32fc1[Accessed 26 November 2020].
Goldenberg, R., 2020. Germany sees high number in Femicide. [Online] Available at:https://lawspring.org/the-shadow-pandemic-rising-femicide-and-gender-based-violence-rates-during-covid-19-860c3b32fc1[Accessed 26 November 2020].
Madgavkar, A., White, O., Krishnan, M. & Mahajan, D., 2020. COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects. [Online] Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects#[Accessed 26 November 2020].
UN Women, 2020. Unlocking the lockdown: The gendered effects of COVID-19 on acheiving the SDG's in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok: UN Women UN Women.
UNDP, 2020. The Economic Impacts of COVID-19 and Gender Recommendations for Policy-makers. Briefing Note. Panama: UNDP.
Wenham, C., 2020. The Gendered impact of the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period. Brussels: European Parliament.