Covid-19's Gender Effect
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
COVID19’s Gender Effect: By Cathy Holt
Throughout the world, stories are surfacing of how women and girls are being disproportionately affected by COVID19.
Although studies, like the one published in Frontiers in Public Health, show that women and men are equally susceptible to contracting COVID19, men are more likely to die because of other factors such as general health management, risk behaviors and other pre-existing conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and liver disease, which are higher in men.(1).
However, living through COVID 19 is seen to place more burdens on women and those in the LGBTQ communities. One factor often cited is that these populations are generally employed in jobs that are impacted more by COVID19-related economic downturns and closures. A larger number of women and LGBTQ Americans work in the service industries like restaurants, hospitals, retail, hotel, child care, etc. “Two-thirds of tipped restaurant workers in the U.S. are women, according to analysis by TIME Magazine. Sixty-five percent of workers in the restaurant industry do not have paid sick leave. and 77 percent have unpaid leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” (2). And, according to a Human Rights Campaign Foundation report, of the estimated 14 million LGBTQ adults and 2 million LGBTQ youth in the U.S., more than 5 million work in jobs in restaurants and food services, hospitals, K-12 and higher education, and retail industries (3). Additionally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 80% of health care workers are women. In many of these low wage services jobs such as housekeeping, nursing assistants, home health aides, cashiers, teachers etc. between 40%- 55% are women of color (4). The livelihoods of these service industry workers are made more precarious because they often lack a social network like paid leave, health insurance and ability to create savings under non-pandemic circumstances.
Women are experiencing even more responsibilities as families are being confined to their homes. According to the World Economic Forum, women perform between 75% - 80% of unpaid caregiving around the world, which means women are performing more of the housework and child care. And, if someone in the family contracts COVID19 and needs to quarantine at home for their recovery, it is usually women providing that care.
With the switch to online education, women are more often tasked with becoming homeschoolers. For households with dual incomes, women are more likely to earn less. If someone has to cut back or leave work to assume these responsibilities, it is often women. For women who are single-parent head-of-households, juggling child care, homeschooling and household activities while potentially still working outside the home is stressful. And, women of color are impacted more than white women. Studies have shown that approximately “67.5 percent of Black mothers and 41.4 percent of Latina mothers were the primary or sole breadwinners for their families, compared with 37 percent of white mothers”(4). Many of them are risking their lives on a daily basis to survive.
One family I know, decided that the two single-mother head-of-households would move in together to divide up these activities. Space was cramped in the living arrangements. Older siblings (often girls) helped out with child care, homeschooling, cooking and other daily chores when they weren’t trying to study. Computers had to be shared for all the online learning. The two women took different shifts so someone could manage the home front and avoid devastation by this pandemic. Both woman could not afford to stop working and lacked paid leave coverage. And, they also had to contend with reduced work hours further impacting their incomes.
Sheltering in place has also forced many women, children and LGBTQ individuals to spend more time in dangerously abusive environments. Actual statistics on the rise of gender-based violence (GBV) are hard to come by during this pandemic, but typically, rates of domestic violence increase when families spend more time together. Even during normal times, only about half of all domestic violence victims report the abuse (5). But, increase stressors like financial difficulties, constant togetherness, and increased alcohol consumption are common triggers for violence. Being sequestered at home, how can someone call for help when they are under constant surveillance? Advocates against GBV encourage governments and agencies to partner with grocery stores and pharmacies to provide abuse reporting mechanisms to customers who need help.
Abusive partners are using the pandemic as a means of controlling access to the outside world. Either they control their partners from leaving the house for fear of bringing the virus home, or use their power to threaten them with being thrown out onto the streets if they don’t comply. Many abuse victims stay in relationships because of their financial insecurity. In order to leave, the abused often must secretly stash money for their escape. Money is more closely monitored if one or both are unemployed or working from home. And, if abused women, children, and LGBTQ individuals do leave, they are faced with going to overcrowded shelters that may be petri dishes of COVID19. These victims are more vulnerable than ever without the support networks they have created or rely on.
Home isolation has also had a toll on women’s access to health care. Many are having more difficulty access birth control or reproductive health care which are often seen as a lessor priority during health care crises. Many “non-essential” medical practices have reduced their case load in order to disinfect medical environments between visits. Some patients can’t always access computers for telemedicine conferences. Groups like Planned Parenthood have adapted to patient needs by introducing Planned Parenthood Direct, an app which provides access to birth control and UTI screening through phones or tablets.
Childbirth has also had to adapt to the COVID19 pandemic. Marginalized communities and communities of color have experienced increase difficulties in accessing prenatal care if they live in a healthcare desert. What is usually a festive occasion, giving birth during COVID19 often means one support person is allowed in the birthing room. Mothers and their partners are tested before being admitted. If either test positive, the process gets more complicated. If the mother tests positive a myriad of precautions are initiated, which can include separating mother and baby right after birth. If the partner tests positive, they must abandon the expectant mother to watch the birth via teleconferencing if being able to watch at all. And, the caring labor and delivery room staff, who are often sources of added comfort, are now geared up in personal protective equipment looking like someone out of a scary movie.
As governments and policy-makers are responding to the health and economic challenges presented by the COVID19 pandemic, they must center women and recognize the intersectionality that impacts women’s experiences in all plans for recovery from this crisis.
(1) Front. Public Health, 29 April 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00152
(2) Simon, Madeleine. Women and the hidden burden of the coronavirus: How women shoulder the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hill https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/488509-the-hidden-burden-of-the-coronavirus-on-women
(5) U.S. Department of Justice Special Report. https://permanent.access.gpo.gov/gpo118103/ndv0312.pdf