Women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The pandemic has fuelled many concerns towards whether a return on the achieved progress on women’s and girls’ rights along the previous 15 years could happen. Thus, more attention and resources should be directed, by governments and civil society organisations, towards a profound and multidimensional assessment of the gendered impacts of COVID-19.
This will inform an immediate response that includes a strong gender dimension addressing the real needs of women and girls during the pandemic. It will also identify and capitalise on emanated opportunities towards enhanced gender equality on the long run.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked desolation around the whole world, affecting the population’s health, social and economic status, and stretching government resources and options.
It has created a new narrative where different adaptation strategies started to emerge affecting the current course of life for humans in general and women in particular. This has unfolded an argumentative situation on whether the pandemic will cause a setback and widen the gender gap between women and men. On the other hand, it could introduce potential for more balanced gender roles and access to opportunities.
If you are following news on the impacts of COVID-19, both at national and global level, you will find that women and girls are most heavily affected by the pandemic.
Women comprise the majority of the population facing the COVID-19 pandemic, taking care of children, and sick family members including the elderly. They are over-represented working in health systems.
Globally, 70% of medical and support staff and 85% of nurses in hospitals are women. In Egypt, 42.4% of doctors and 91.1% of nursing staff who work for the government, in addition to 73.1% of nursing staff in hospitals and therapeutic facilities in the private sector, are women. Thus women are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection.
Violence against women and girls has increased (25% global increase, 19% increase in Egypt) due to social and economic stresses caused by the pandemic. In addition to this, increased rates of early/child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and school drop-out among girls has occurred during the pandemic.
The closure of day-care centres and the shift to online education has increased the burden of unpaid care and domestic work on women, despite the fact that both women and men are mostly working from home now.
Women are strongly affected by the economic slump that has hit many countries. This is mainly because women are more likely to be engaged in short-term, part-time, and informal employments, that are often unregistered and that generally lack basic social or legal protection and employment benefits.
All these negative impacts enforce the fear of jeopardised excreted efforts and loss of achieved gains on the rights of women and girls to date, and draw a gloomy and dark picture of their future.
Despite the fact that these negative impacts are a reality and have caused harm to a considerable number of women and girls around the world, we still need to be mindful of other impacts that have been introduced and highlighted because of the pandemic.
I will refer here to three main areas, namely: 1) working from home reality and its effect on gender roles; 2) women’s increased demand on digital usage and technology; and 3) acknowledged female leadership.
COVID-19 has introduced working from home as a new reality for both women and men. Results of a survey and study conducted in some foreign countries provided a clear evidence on change in gender attitudes linked to working from home and employment status.
The initial results showed that when extra unpaid work was dropped onto households, men pitched in more but with tendency towards divisions of care work rather than divisions of housework.
This change in gender attitudes is expected to be enforced as working from home becomes the norm.
In spite of the gender gap in access to technology and digital platforms, women’s demand for capacitation on digital literacy and skills have increased with a strong appetite for online training.
They also started exploring different work opportunities such as electronic devices maintenance. This will guarantee the availability of different and untraditional work opportunities for women in the near future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted female leadership as a success. Many of the countries with the strongest initial response to the global crisis have been led by women. An analysis of 194 countries revealed that infection and fatality rates in the first three months of the pandemic were generally lower in countries with female leaders.
Examples of strong female leaders who have managed to guide their countries successfully through the pandemic include: Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway; Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand; Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan; Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland; Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh; and Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland.
This globally acknowledged success has increased the trust in female leaders, which will increase the room for women political participation and leadership in the coming future.
Finally, reiterating my initial message, I find it crucial for winning our war against the COVID-19 pandemic to have girls and women at the heart of the response endeavours, at all levels. This will occur by strengthening their leadership and authentic participation in all relevant decision-making processes.
By this, we guarantee that girls and women have a real opportunity to influence and shape the designing and execution of response plans, policies and strategies aiming to rebuild more equal, inclusive and resilient societies and guarantee brighter future for women and girls.
Parallel to this we need to identify the emerging positive gendered impacts of COVID-19and dedicate resources to further explore and identify these sparks which if nurtured well can lead, to a more balanced gender roles and consequent progress towards gender equality for women and girls along the next years.
Engee Soliman, the strategic partnerships and advocacy manager at Plan International Egypt
UNPOLICY BRIEF: THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON WOMEN
Women and COVID-19 Pandemic-Egypt by National Council for Women, UN Women Egypt, The Egyptian Centre for Public opinion research