Why the COVID-19 Pandemic Is a Major Challenge for Gender Equality

Sophia Smith
on 10 October 2021

Talking about gender inequality is difficult enough as it is. Add the pandemic into the mix, and the voices of some of the most marginalized women in the world are stifled more than ever, getting lost in the sea of the latest health scares and COVID-19 updates. In the quiet background and at the most chaotic front lines, women are facing old challenges in a new light. 

The health crisis has already presented issues for women in the workplace, at home, and in academia. Every part of the world is experiencing these issues to varying degrees. 

In underdeveloped countries, existing healthcare limitations are exacerbated by the pandemic. In the most well-developed and advanced parts of the world, everything from spousal abuse to corporate inequality seems to be getting worse. Some brands and organizations are doing their part in empowering women, but we have yet to see significant, meaningful changes taking effect.  

Childcare and household chores

Work-life balance, anyone? If the notion seems impossible in regular circumstances, try imagining what that looks like for a modern-day woman with a family and her own home. Now that remote and home-based work are the norm, women, and especially single moms and mompreneurs are facing immense challenges due to the pandemic. 

Most of them cannot rely on elderly parents to take over childcare, since that exposes them to a greater risk of catching the virus. They are on their own, taking care of their children and their professional duties, without the ability to balance their lives, not to mention the lack of proper financial support. 

Protecting women at the forefront

All the media outlets are abuzz with stories covering doctors and medical staff doing exceptional work and sacrificing their own wellbeing to help struggling societies stay afloat. Did you know that the vast majority of those front-line workers are women? As nurses, cleaning staff, social care workers, and in more physically demanding jobs in well-developed countries such as Australia, women need more protection. 

In response to the pandemic, some brands are creating more durable women’s workwear in Australia to provide them with proper protection and ensure safety in the workplace. This is a commendable effort, and it needs to be more widespread especially today, when the safety of front-line workers in various positions secures the wellbeing of society as a whole. 

Domestic violence issues on the rise

Even in the best of times, the topic of domestic violence is often a hush-hush problem that few societies dare discuss. It’s already difficult to deal with and protect women in abusive relationships, and legal loopholes have made it almost impossible to properly convict their spouses in some parts of the world. 

What happens when you add quarantine and social isolation into the already volatile home environment? More stress and more violence. Already strained by the pandemic, many women are not provided the help they require when it comes to preventing spousal abuse of any kind. 

Striking differences in decision-making roles

We’ve already mentioned that a large portion of front-line workers are women. As commendable as that might be, there’s a notable difference in how women are represented in decision-making roles. Both in the corporate world and at the very top of the healthcare chain, women are rarely seen at the conference table.

Research shows that while 58% of employees in health ministries are women, only 34% are decision-makers. At the same time, government task forces on a global scale show a great disparity in their gender representation, with 11% of them having no women at all. These numbers are a clear indicator as to how much trust the world places in women’s hands when it comes to making decisions that could alter the course of the pandemic.

Pregnancy and childbirth 

Of course, depending on where you come from, different countries are handling healthcare needs differently during this crisis. Some have managed to create dedicated medical centres only for COVID-19 patients without disrupting, or while minimally disrupting other patients’ needs.

However, in most regions, regular healthcare has come to a halt, or at the very least, it has been drastically altered by the pandemic. In the midst of it all, women dealing with pregnancy and childbirth are experiencing traumatic difficulties. They aren’t getting regular prenatal care and exams, and many are unable to give birth while being supported by their spouse by their side. 

 

Inequality rears its ugly face in the worst of times, when every society shows its true colours and its capability to protect some of its members. Despite taking on such prevalent roles on the front lines and embracing responsibilities that shape our response to the pandemic, a staggeringly small fraction of politics is currently dealing with ensuring gender equality. 

 

Let’s hope that the pandemic and those who are rising above the mentioned issues will teach us valuable lessons and set the stage for the much-needed change to empower women in life as well as business. 

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