A CNN analysis earlier this year found that in the countries for which data was available, men were 50% more likely than women to die after being diagnosed with Covid-19. But experts say focusing purely on health data is dangerous.
“We think about this crisis in very narrow terms, only focusing on the health impacts, but we’re missing the bigger picture,” said Julia Smith, a researcher at the Simon Fraser University in Canada. Smith is working on a multi-year project looking at the wider impact of the pandemic.
“Men are having worse health outcomes if they become infected, but when we think about the secondary impacts, here we see that women are being disproportionately affected,” she added.
Women’s rights as an afterthought
Smith said that when marginalized groups are underrepresented at the decision-making table, their rights and needs are often forgotten. “And unfortunately, women’s rights are almost always an afterthought in any crisis situation,” she said.
Many activists say it was painfully obvious that such abuse would increase in a lockdown situation. Numerous studies have shown that stressful events such as economic downturns or natural disasters often lead to higher instances of gender-based violence.
“When we think about pandemic preparedness, the same way we should be thinking of having enough front-line health workers or protective equipment, we should be thinking about any quarantine or social distancing measures having impact on gender based violence, especially within the family.”
“But these women have already experienced the violence … we need to respond to the issue before the rates go up,” Smith said.
This has potentially dangerous effects. Studies have shown that the number of stillbirths and maternal deaths increased in some countries hit by Ebola, because women were unable to access the appropriate services.
And the lack of access to family planning has long-term consequences that will be felt beyond the pandemic, according to Lunz. “Whenever women do not have control over their own bodies, over how many children they want and when they want to have a family, these women and their children and their families are kept in poverty.”
“A lot of the industries that are being most affected by the outbreak — tourism and other service industries, care work sector — those industries tend to be dominated by women,” Smith said.
And while many countries have stepped in to provide help to people who lost their jobs, many women are likely slipping through the cracks. “When you think about economic recovery, we’ll need to consider that bailout packages focus just on formal employment and women are disproportionately informal workers, so we need to think about how should we be targeting them,” O’Donnell said.
At the same time, many more women than men have found themselves on the front lines of the battle against the virus. According to the World Health Organization, 70% of the global health and social care workers are women.
Women around the world are also still responsible for the majority of unpaid childcare and housework. According to estimates by the UN, women spend on average 4.1 hours a day doing unpaid care and domestic work, compared to 1.7 hours spent by men.
Single parents, most of whom are women, are hit hardest by school closures. Lunz said the crisis will likely affect women’s careers in the long term, setting back the quest for equality. “What we know from history, when women do not have access to resources and are not independent and cannot sustain themselves, they are dependent on someone else.”
‘Not thinking about anyone else’
“Autocratic leaders and toxic leaders are always the biggest threat to women’s rights,” Lunz said.
“That is what history shows, and that’s what we are seeing now, looking at Viktor Orban for example, it was last week that the parliament in Hungary, where his party has a majority, passed the law which restricts the country from making the Istanbul Convention from becoming law.” The Istanbul Convention is the world’s first legally binding treaty entirely dedicated to combating violence against women.
“The whole situation is crazy,” Marbán Castro said. “Before we put in a measure, we have to think how it’s going to affect all the people in our society — women, children, minorities, homeless people … this has not happened, the measures have been put in for and by middle-aged men who are not thinking about anyone else.”