We Need a Gendered Perspective in Addressing Impacts of COVID-19
DR. NJENGA GITAHI
Dr Njenga heads operations in the construction industry, where he is tasked with monitoring and evaluating the implementation of infrastructure projects. He balances his time between lectures at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture with research work at ACAL’s COVID-19 Think Tank
Pre-existing social, political and economic inequalities in the society are exposing our vulnerabilities and amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. The gender aspect has been overlooked. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate negative effect on women with the consequences likely to outlast the actual epidemic.
The covid-19 health crisis has highlighted and worsened the inequalities for women and girls simply by virtue of their gender with the consequence of limiting their work and economic opportunities. With the virus exposing health inequalities, it is common knowledge that gender is a social and economic determinant of health and as such we cannot adopt a “one size fits all” approach for COVID-19. Besides, women health issues are unique.
According to the World Bank Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force, the world is seeing a surge in violence against women and girls with one in every three woman experiencing this vice. While anecdotal evidence suggests spikes in child marriages, female genital mutilation and unintended pregnancy, these vices have vast and far reaching consequences for the rights and health of women and girls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is exacerbating inequalities as more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health. There needs to be concerted efforts to mitigate violence against women.
Beyond gender-based violence, women have another added responsibility, made more urgent by Covid-19, childcare. With the closure of schools and day care centres the responsibility has shifted to women. This has had a particularly large impact on working mothers: as a second earner: since they are likely to do more of these tasks than working fathers. Equally some fathers have also taken up parental responsibility for childcare which may culturally erode social norms. On the other hand, it is expected that, in particular, single mothers, who frequently find themselves in a disadvantaged economic position, will be the most affected.
Women form over 70% of workers in the health and social sector acting as frontline responders, healthcare workers, and community organizers and volunteers. This means they are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Should we ensure gender balance in this sector? This gender factor coupled with historical social and economic deprivation, limited access to resources and pay gaps compounds this inequality. There is need to address these gendered inequalities that could both enhance the women and girl’s well-being, social protection and help on gender roles and norms. Women can better play their economic roles.
However, the role of gender in morbidity and mortality has revealed that men and women have similar odds of contracting the virus but with a strong skew towards men. Remarkably, the mortality rate of men is rising significantly faster than mortality rate for women in the world in general. Gender and biological differences in the response of the immune system and hormonal factors has increased the susceptibility and possibilities for greater male vulnerability and risk for worse outcomes and death. On this, we need to protect men, just as we protect women against gender based violence and economic deprivation.
Managing deep-rooted gender inequality amid the COVID-19 crisis by responding and planning long term measures will negate the virus impact on social and economic front thus helping them become more resilient to future crises. Governments and policymakers must address gender related issues that hinder access to universal healthcare and social protection. Strategies aligned with International Labour Standards must be designed and implemented to tackle the new challenges posed to the changing world of work for work of equal value during covid-19 and beyond.
The government and policy makers must design measures that are aimed at recognizing, reducing and redistributing the gender burden through stimulus programs, economic recovery packages and prepare much-needed relief, expand and invest in universal social protection and allocate additional resources to address violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans. To tip the scale, these agencies must also call for increased participation in women’s inclusion, leadership, and representation as empowered change agents at the heart of resilience and recovery. The envisaged interventions should go beyond cobid-19 and become institutionalized.
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