The direct influence of COVID-19 on women
18th March 2021
Author: Meltem Ince Yenilmez, Department of Economics, Yaşar Üniversitesi, Izmir, Turkey
Today, we are standing at a critical point in our history. The pandemic forces us to choose between ignoring the effects of calamity on women and condemning them to a less equal, more isolated and more unfortunate future, or to embrace the idea that women should be completely accepted as an equal, and recognising their role as key economic actors who will boost the socio-economic recovery.
During this time of great adversity, the move towards gender equality can be unified and strengthened. Women benefited in a variety of ways after the combined disasters of World War I and the 1918 Pandemic, taking increasingly important roles in the labour force, leadership, and administration, enjoying great financial and social freedom and winning the right to vote.
While some substantial gains may have proved to be temporary and superficial, the vital roles of women during this time of crisis helped to unsettle and uproot profoundly engrained generalisations and stereotypes. What about this pandemic we are experiencing? Men seem to be more susceptible to the destruction of coronavirus.
Women have suffered the most during the pandemic, from a number of points of view. Crucially, social distancing and quarantine policies have confined millions of families to their homes across the world, alongside widespread job losses and income reduction. This has led to a worldwide and dramatic rise in domestic violence, which the United Nations (UN) has portrayed as a 'shadow pandemic'.
The rise in cases of domestic violence since the start of the pandemic seems to be consistent with our understanding of the causes of abusive behaviour at home. Covid-19 has resulted in job losses (Adams-Prassl et al, 2020; Hupkau and Petrongolo, 2020; Alon et al, 2020), a decline in psychological wellness, and mental health due to economic instability, and decreased interaction with friends, relatives and support networks.
Additionally, it has prompted the family to spend more leisure time together at home. In general, abusive behavior at home tends to be in line with how the epidemic has affected women's financial status in comparison to men's. The direction of the effect, however, tends to be influenced by underlying sexual fairness and equality, which is influenced by societal norms and women's financial freedom. Furthermore, women continue to be responsible for the majority of neglected and unpaid housework and childcare around the world. There were high expectations at the start of the pandemic that the worldwide move to home-working would mean that childcare and tasks would be shared more evenly between couples.
But, Covid-19 has been a calamity for equity. After the start of lockdown, mothers were more likely than fathers to have left paid jobs. Even if they are still working, they have shortened their working hours more than fathers, and they experience more interruptions when working from home than fathers, especially because of focusing on youngsters’ care.
There is a strong possibility that the pandemic will worsen the income inequality between men and women. There will be implications for the economy, companies, and women's long-term financial stability and well-being if women continue to lose jobs, reduce working hours, or leave their professions.
It is essential to put measures in place to make it easier for women to work or to return to work after maternity leave, and to allow for a more equitable distribution of domestic labor between men and women.
The other side of the coin is that women make stronger, more caring leaders, a subject that has risen to the bleeding edge of political discussion in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic situation.
Female-led countries perform substantially better than male-led countries when adjusting for GDP per capita, population, size of the urban population, and elderly population. Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, Norway, and Finland are only a few examples. The crisis has given female world leaders the chance to reconcile a double bind: they can be proactive and strategic while still being caring and nurturing. There are fewer deaths per capita in female-led countries; creating a more equal society and electing a woman leader has a statistically important impact on reducing Covid-19 related deaths.
We see this crisis in very limited perspective, focusing only on the health consequences, but we must not ignore the broad view. Gender equality and fairness should not be an afterthought of policy formulation and execution, but rather should be at the forefront, and addressing gender equality calls for a cross-government approach.
The pandemic is exacerbating issues that women were already struggling with before it began. Crises like this intensify and worsen the already existing systemic problems in society; this is just what we are seeing now in terms of women's rights and privileges, women's well-being, and women's economic position.
Adams-Prassl, A., Boneva, T,; Golin, M. and Rauh, C. (2020). Inequality in the impact of the coronavirus shock: Evidence from real-time surveys. CEPR Discussion Paper 14665.
Alon, T., Doepke, M.; Olmstead-Rumsey, J. and Tertilt, M. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 on gender equality. NBER Working Paper 26947.
Hupkau, C. and Petrongolo, B. (2020). Work, care and gender during the Covid-19 crisis, Centre for Economic Performance, Paper No.002, London: LSE.
Author: Meltem Ince Yenilmez (Department of Economics, Yaşar Üniversitesi, Izmir, Turkey)
Article: The Covid-19 pandemic and the struggle to tackle gender-based violence
Journal: The Journal of Adult Protection, vol 22, iss 6