The Invisible Reality: What COVID-19 Has Meant for Women And Girls

The Invisible Reality: What COVID-19 Has Meant for Women And Girls

By Razmila Razaak, Intern at the Richmond World Affairs Council

January 2021

The year 2020 was not something anybody was anticipating. From businesses shutting down, school being canceled, raging fears of product shortage, to the economy failing – all that has left us with the introduction of a new normalcy. The COVID-19 pandemic is now deemed the most crucial and challenging global health catastrophe of the century. The virus has affected and killed millions of people throughout the world. In turn, it has swiftly expanded, posing tremendous health, economic, environmental, and social challenges.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has been one that struck everyone by unimaginable means, the consequences that it has had on women and girls have been most significant. It is all too familiar as outbreaks of Ebola, and Zika viruses in the past have upended women’s socio-economic security.[i] This unprecedented pandemic has exposed society’s reliance on women both on the front line and at home. It has exposed the inequalities that have become apparent worldwide, varying from disparities in the health sector to the economy and even when it comes to protection.

During the pandemic, violence against women, specifically domestic violence, has escalated. Many countries imposed stay-at-home orders to curb the spread and contraction of the virus. Thus, a combination of such conditions, added to the general economic and health pressures, has increased gender-based violence worldwide. It is important to note that domestic violence has no gender; however, The Office for National Statistics affirms that domestic abuse is much more prevalent for women. Economic and health stresses due to the pandemic have caused domestic violence to rise rapidly. Before the pandemic, both women and men could get out of the house and seek relief outside, which served as a haven for many abuse victims. With lockdowns and businesses shutting down, these forms of help are not guaranteed to those who need it the most. Domestic abuse or violence has increased around the world at the same time that lockdown measures for COVID-19 started, affecting women and girls tremendously[ii].

The acknowledgment of domestic violence abuses is often varied, depending on the country. Domestic violence is not considered a criminal offense in some countries, which makes coming forward much harder for the victims. However, some countries have taken into account the increase in domestic violence abuses and have taken preventive measures. For instance, Italy and Kenya have boosted domestic abuse helplines, and Australia has increased funding for anti-violence organizations that offer safer accommodation to its victims.[iii] It is imperative to capture the stories of women affected by violence whose experiences might not be apparent in official statistics. Videos have surfaced on social media about supporting individuals going through domestic violence abuse to alleviate some of the invisible acts going on at home. One of the more prominent videos is this video, where both women and men gesture a hand signal as a call for help.

Furthermore, considering the economic casualties taking place due to the pandemic, sexual exploitation and child marriages are also likely to increase, leaving women and girls vulnerable. Child marriages and sexual exploitation worldwide have been an on-going human rights issue for years now, and these issues often occur due to economic strains on families. Consequently, with the on-going difficulties, child marriage and sexual exploitation might seem like a security fix when faced with economic uncertainty due to the pandemic. What many fail to realize is the negative impact that this can have on women and girls. Society is quick to place women and girls in vulnerable situations for monetary or materialistic gains and often forget about treating them as human beings.

No human should fall into the trap of child marriage or sexual exploitation for any reason, especially during a pandemic. The Global Girlhood Report 2020 states that 2020 has been a year of “irreversible setbacks and lost progress” for girls. This is due to more girls being at risk of being forced into child marriage, with 1 million more being expected to become pregnant[iv]. This pandemic has imperiled our health and also reversed years of progress on child marriage, which has been exacerbated by school closures and economic deprivation.

Women and girls, who already faced health and safety implications when trying to maintain their sexual and reproductive health before the pandemic crisis, are now in particular danger. When healthcare systems are overburdened, and resources are reallocated to answer to the pandemic, it can further hinder health services unique to women and girls’ well being[v]. Along with the increase in sexual violence and domestic abuse that happens during outbreaks, these obstacles reduce women and girls’ freedom and will, which damage their health. Effects on abortion during the current pandemic vary and will lead to various consequences for women. In many countries such as Indonesia and Mozambique, contraceptives are low and out of stock, whereas official abortion services in many countries have come to a halt.

The health repercussions can be catastrophic, primarily in provincial and marginalized communities where women are less likely to access quality health services. As it stands today, there have been no recommendations on how resources should be channeled to implement safe abortions and guarantee the supply of contraceptives during the coronavirus pandemic. The absence of proper resources should not automatically lead to immediate risks for women and girls. It is high time that government officials and other organizations start to value women and girls’ lives just as they value men’s. The lack of urgency for the betterment of women and their livelihood during this time only aids in society’s downfall. Not only are women and girls affected physically by this pandemic, but they are also involved financially.

The world’s economies and maintenance of our daily lives are built on women and girls’ invisible and unpaid labor. Economic crises hit women harder compared to men, and there are many reasons for that. The most notable reason is that women earn much less than their male counterparts. Because of this, the pandemic continues to contribute to the worsening of gender-pay gaps worldwide. Due to the virus, many businesses have been forced to shut down, and women are overrepresented in many of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19. Evidence for this can be seen in sectors such as food services, retail, and entertainment. [vi]. Domestic workers, who are mostly women, have dealt with the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic[vii]. In the absence of help, domestic workers have been left stranded with no form of income to support their families.

In addition, the National Women’s Law center[viii] shows that over a year ago, women were the driving force in employment, outnumbering men in the workforce. However, due to the pandemic, women account for the majority of the jobs lost in the year 2020. Just within the last month, women had lost over 150K jobs while men gained over 15K in the workforce, according to NWLC. The pandemic’s impact on women’s employment is devastating, and this economic insecurity affects the lives of women and girls for the years ahead. The fact of the matter is that women are being walloped during this pandemic, and this will only aid in widening the gender wage gap moving forward. Consequently, if unaddressed, education and employment ramifications have long-lasting outcomes that will shift gains won in gender equality.

As emergency measures are being put in place to recover from the pandemic, all national responses must place women and girls – their rights and social and economic outcomes – at their focus, if they are to have significant results. It is a call on governments to ensure that all their citizens have an equal chance of safety, shelter, and security. Therefore, when the pandemic ends, addressing gender inequality must be at the heart of any more extensive memorandum to build a more equitable world. The pandemic is a reminder of the indispensable contributions that women make at all levels. Unless the world acts swiftly and decisively, the impact on women and girls’ futures and all our futures will be calamitous.

[i] Nature Editorial. (2020, July 8). Women are most affected by pandemics — lessons from past outbreaks. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02006-z#ref-CR2

[ii] Godin, Mélissa. “How Coronavirus Is Affecting Victims of Domestic Violence.” Time, Time, 18 Mar. 2020, time.com/5803887/coronavirus-domestic-violence-victims/.

[iii] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2020). COVID-19 and Essential Services Provision for Survivors of Violence Against Women and Girls. https://www.scribbr.com/apa-citation-generator/new/report/

[iv] Save The Children. (2020). THE GLOBAL GIRLHOOD REPORT 2020: How COVID-19 is putting progress in peril. https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/ed-cp/global-girlhood-report-2020.pdf

[v] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2020). COVID-19 and Essential Services Provision for Survivors of Violence Against Women and Girls. https://www.scribbr.com/apa-citation-generator/new/report/

[vi] UN Women. (2020, September 16). COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers.https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/feature-covid-19-economic-impacts-on-women

[vii] UN Women. (2020, September 16). COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: The story behind the numbers.https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/9/feature-covid-19-economic-impacts-on-women

[viii] Ewing-Nelson, C. (2021, January). All of the Jobs Lost in December Were Women’s Jobs. National Women’s Law Center. https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/December-Jobs-Day.pdf

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