Will Coronavirus Make Gender Inequality Worse?
Thu, October 21, 2021

Will Coronavirus Make Gender Inequality Worse?


The rapid increase of coronavirus cases continues to devastate hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. However, recent analyses by experts showed that men are more likely to test positive and more likely to die from the disease. In an early analysis of nearly 45,000 cases in China, researchers found out that the death rate was 2.8% for men, which was higher compared to women with 1.7%. Men also made up a slight majority of the infected with 51%. 

However, this concern is not only visible in China but also in France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Spain. “The growing observation of increased mortality in men is holding true across China, Italy, Spain. We’re seeing this across very diverse countries and cultures,” Sabra Klein, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said.

While there’s still no concrete evidence why men are more likely to be infected by the coronavirus, many experts have shared their theories. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, smoking was suggested as a likely explanation since nearly 50% of men but only about 2% of women smoke in China. A recent paper agreed with this as researchers found out that smokers made up about 26% of those who ended up in intensive care or died, while 12% of those with less severe symptoms. 

Also, some experts linked this with behavioral factors that differ across genders. Previous studies have shown that men are less likely to seek medical care, less likely to use soap, less likely to wash their hands, and more likely to ignore public health advice. While men are more physically vulnerable than women in this pandemic, many experts argue that women and girls are especially vulnerable to global health crises. 

Recently, several organizations dedicated to women’s health urge governments to consider gender in coronavirus relief efforts. Thus, UN Women shared a COVID-19 checklist for policy- and decision-makers working to address the global pandemic and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released a gender guidance document. “An effective response to pandemics needs to really look at gender dynamics in a meaningful way,” Sarah Hendriks, UN Women policy director, said. 

There are several factors in which we can see how women become the most vulnerable in this pandemic.



Female Workers Are the Most Affected

The vast majority of nurses, teachers, flight attendants, and service industry workers are female - jobs that put them on the front lines of the outbreak. While the media has been praising them for their hard work, they are still not paid the same way men are paid. According to CNN, an American news-based pay television channel owned by AT&T's WarnerMedia, the PayScale’s 2020 Gender Pay Gap Report showed that women currently make 81 cents for every $1 a man makes. 

Since the vast majority of the occupations dominated by women are at risk during this pandemic, women are more likely to face unemployment. Women in the health care sector are particularly vulnerable because they need to address the growing number of patients in this crisis. The World Health Organization reported that women make 90% of nurses, 87% of health care support staff, and 75% of health care practitioners. Unfortunately, they are also underpaid.

PayScale’s gender pay gap research revealed that female nurses make less than male nurses, 98 cents for every $1, while women family doctors make 94 cents for every $1 male family doctors earn. Female healthcare workers also suffer the most during a pandemic as evidence by the first-person accounts of student nurses during the SARS epidemic. At Bloomberg, an online site that delivers business and market news, data, analysis, and video to the world, they detailed the confusion, anxiety, and stress of long days with patients and watching colleagues fall ill. Some opted to sleep in the hospital not only to take care of the patients but also to protect their families. 

“There’s this idea that if there’s a gap in the system, the nurses will fill it. The duty is to be ever-present and visible and offering empathy and care,” Eleanor Holroyd, a professor of nursing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2003, said. 



The Rise of Domestic Violence

With millions of people spending time indoors, women are more at risk of becoming victims of domestic violence. Recent reports showed that levels of intimate partner violence increased when households are placed under increased stress and families are forced to live in confined spaces. Guo Jing, a female activist who had only moved to Wuhan, stated that she has personally received inquiries from young people living in the quarantined city about witnessing domestic violence between their parents.

Feng Yuan, the director of Beijing-based women's rights nonprofit Weiping, also said that her organization had received three times as many inquiries from victims than they did before quarantines were in place. "The police should not use the excuse of the epidemic for not taking domestic violence seriously," she said. 



Access to Treatment and Healthcare

According to Global Citizen, a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end poverty, pandemics worsen existing gender inequalities and can make it more difficult for women and girls to receive treatment and health care. This was proven in the recent outbreaks of Zika in Latin America and Ebola in West Africa. Women in Latin America had limited access to reproductive health care and financial resources during the Zika outbreak, while women in West Africa were disproportionately infected by Ebola because they were more likely to be the sole caretakers in their families and work in health care. 

Previous reports also showed that both outbreaks had limited availability for family planning and posed serious threats for pregnant women. 

Thus, international organizations are urging the governments to also consider women in tackling and addressing this pandemic. “As we go forward to look at recovery and growth, there's going to be an important opportunity to see that with the gender transformative lens,” Sarah Hendriks, UN Women policy director, said. 

Researchers also said that it is important that we ensure that women's voices are heard and recognized. "Women are playing an indispensable role in the fight against the outbreak - as health care workers, as scientists and researchers, as social mobilizers, as community peacebuilders and connectors, and as caregivers,” they said.