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COVID-19’s attempt to sink feminism

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

by Isa Martinez

(Part 1 of 3)

Many false claims regarding COVID-19 continue to circulate, but few so glaringly flawed as this: that the disease is the great equalizer. While the disease will not discriminate in selecting its victims, its reach will claw open and enlarge the gaps of inequality in our social fabric. COVID-19 has thrown the world into the same raging sea, but we now find ourselves in different boats. Women and girls scramble to stay afloat, while their male counterparts receive more security and protection.

In little more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a vicious threat to centuries’ worth of women’s rights activism. Far from an equalizer, the disease is now one of the largest threats to the fight for equality.

According to U.N. data, Women comprise 70% of the healthcare workforce, yet infection rates among female health workers are nearly triple than those of men. In addition to these, women, who are also more likely to be taking on the additional responsibilities of homemaking and caregiving, receive a pay gap of 28% in the healthcare sector.

Despite their indispensable roles in the home, hospital, and workplace, women continue to face more risk and receive less aid. The pandemic has put the cornerstone of our recovery at the highest risk. Women, who are the backbone of our lives in a disease-stricken world, face the most exposure and are awarded the least protection.

COVID-19 continues to jeopardize all progress made towards the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for gender, especially towards the following four goals:

Plans to eliminate gender-based violence have derailed due to lockdowns. Women and girls are unable to escape their abusers, while services that could have helped sufferers and survivors alike have been disrupted or suspended after being deemed nonessential. As of April 2020, domestic violence has increased 30% in France, 25% in Argentina, and 33% in Singapore. Around the world, the voices of women and girls continue to be silenced.

The U.N.’s goal to place value on unpaid care and domestic work has also faltered, with plans to provide public support, social protection, and infrastructure frozen due to lockdowns. Women, who often must continue working at home, face increasing household responsibilities.

With children, special-needs and older persons unable to receive care from schools and institutions, women often have no choice but to compensate for them. Besides doing three times more unpaid domestic work than men, women also face a pay gap between 16% and 35% in the workplace.

Plans to ensure “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” have also been stalled by COVID-19. The goal could be measured by the number of seats held by women in decision-making positions, which have been increasingly taken over by men as the pandemic continues placing power in the hands of male-dominated fields like politics, pharmaceuticals, and hospital management.

Though the march towards gender equality was forced to stagger several steps backward, key initiatives could help regain lost ground. To date, the U.N. recommends three priority measures, including giving women and women’s organizations a larger platform and resource pool, absorbing unpaid care work into the economy, and launching plans geared specifically towards achieving these goals for women.

Should women and their initiatives receive the necessary resources and platforms to be heard, recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will speed up exponentially. Despite the healthcare industry employing more women than men, the latter “outnumber women three to one across COVID-19 government task forces around the world,” according to data by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Women only account for 24% of members across 225 COVID-19 task forces in 137 countries.

Only eight countries have achieved gender parity in their COVID-19 task forces, according to the UNDP. The world’s ability to make equal and inclusive decisions will only improve with the growth of women’s presence in institutions.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka puts it best: “at the moment, men have given themselves the impossible task of making the right decisions about women without the benefit of women’s insights.”

In addition to empowering women, ensuring protection from abusers and harmful parties can guarantee their safety and the continued existence of the value they provide to the community. Resources including emergency housing, help lines, and mobile-related reporting and safety systems can continue protecting women even during lockdowns.

By deeming these resources as essential, incidences of domestic abuse during COVID-19 may start to decline. Countries including the EU member states now leave their domestic abuse response infrastructure open in a bid to curb gender-based violence.

Finally, by compensating women for the work and care they already provide, they can gain financial independence and freedom from institutions and potentially harmful partners and situations.

Ways to achieve this goal include providing flexible work arrangements, improving childcare services and leave programs. Over 50 countries, including in Europe and the Americas, have started improving on these practices.

Unless we can correct the world’s skewed policy response to COVID-19, a full recovery will move further and further away from our horizons. If we are able to neutralize the gender-based risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we can fully leverage and protect one of our most valuable resources in our fight against the outbreak.

Women are imperative and indispensable in the fight against COVID-19: we should treat them as such. After all, aren’t women the first to board lifeboats in a sinking ship?




Isa Martinez is a writer and journalist based in the Philippines. She writes about health, literature, social justice, news, and lifestyle. She wakes up early and likes the outdoors and bread. You can find more of her work here:


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