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In the early days of coronavirus, there was a view that a global pandemic would act as a great equaliser. “A virus doesn’t discriminate,” they said. “We’re all in this together.” It didn’t take long for such a credulous perspective to vanish.
Just like every emergency, every disaster, Covid-19 absolutely does discriminate. It’s ageist, it’s racist, it’s classist and it’s worst of all for those with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities.
It also affects men and women differently, with more men than women dying directly from the virus. However, this is only the first part of the story. Because of societal policies, the socio-economic impacts of the virus are hitting women hardest. The virus, once overlaid on our existing hierarchies, returns us to the traditional power imbalances.
This week, as the UN general assembly meets to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, a new report by Care International casts a first-of-its-kind light on what is happening the world over.
It’s frustrating that we can conduct a global study taking in the perspectives of more than 10,000 people across 40 countries, producing clear evidence of the impact of Covid on women and girls, and yet – as valuable as it is to have data to back up what so many women know to be true – the conclusions are so grimly predictable.
Covid-19 is more likely to destroy women’s livelihoods. With women more likely to work in the informal sector and with less access to unemployment benefits, 55% of the women Care spoke to reported loss of income, compared with only 34% of men. Women are more likely to go hungry: 41% of women and 30% of men reported lack of food was a key impact Covid-19 had on their lives.
This difference reflects deeply entrenched gender inequalities in local and global food systems. And perhaps most tragically, one of the most striking differences is around mental health, which 27% of women reported was a key impact of Covid-19, compared with only 10% of men. Women especially point to rocketing unpaid care burdens as a source of this stress, in addition to worries about livelihoods, food and healthcare.
It needn’t be this way, and this report also offers recommendations on how to inform a more effective Covid-19 response and a future that doesn’t ignore the interests of half the population.
We need to listen to women and girls, find out what they need, prioritise them and other often-excluded groups when it comes to access to social protection programmes and humanitarian aid. This includes prioritising protection against gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and maternal and newborn health.
We are calling on leaders at the UN general assembly to commit to investing in women leaders at all levels in Covid-19 coordination and planning. Until decision-makers reflect the population as a whole, they will never represent the population as a whole. We want a Covid-19 response based on data that represents everybody – we need to fill the data gap. This means collecting, publishing and acting on sex- and age-disaggregated data when planning and conducting response work.
Our leaders, decision-makers and humanitarian actors must be accountable to women and girls, matching words with deeds. Feminists have been marching, petitioning, demanding these very things for generations. The virus might be new, but the disease of myopia is all too old.
•Dr Helen Pankhurst is an adviser for Care International, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and trustee of ActionAid
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Forget notions of coronavirus as a great equaliser – women are yet again the hardest hit | Helen Pankhurst | Global development