Three American researchers have looked at the role of women in caring for COVID-19 affected individuals. The pandemic that has gripped the world for over six months now has skewed gender roles, they noted. Their study titled, “A feminist perspective on COVID‐19 and the value of care work globally,” is published in the latest issue of the journal Feminist Frontiers.
The researchers wrote that whenever there have been natural disasters or health crises, one of the issues that always come up are gender disparities.
Death rates differ
There is a disparity in rates of mortality among men and women as well, they wrote. From earlier studies, evidence revealed that men were more at risk of being infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and dying from COVID-19 disease than women.
Low wage women workers in the frontline
Another major issue that arises from this pandemic is that more women are among “low‐wage workers on the frontline” in COVID-19 care. This included women working as nurses, nursing assistants, home health aides, etc., the researchers wrote.
Women losing jobs
The pandemic has caused innumerable job losses across the world, and studies have shown that women lost more jobs than men during this pandemic. Women working in retail, foodservice, and hospitality were most at risk of losing their jobs. One of the studies shows that in the developed nations, “low‐wage workers at risk of unemployment are disproportionately minority women, particularly women of color.”
Gender crisis at home
Homes are typically places where gender roles are more rigid and difficult to break, wrote the researchers. They added that women perform most of the unpaid care work at home around the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). With closed schools and more people being sick and needing care, more women have had to step up to provide unpaid care at home.
Women’s physical and mental health
With all the above factors, there has been a severe setback to both physical and mental wellbeing of women around the world, wrote the researchers. They write, the care and work provided by the women is often “undervalued and invisible.”
Social reproduction and care
Research looking at feminist perspectives in economics shows that production is both from paid and unpaid work provided by women. They explained that social reproduction is the day to day work done by women “household labor, physical and emotional caregiving, and other work to meet human needs,” which help “maintain existing life and to reproduce the next generation.” In the absence of this, the social systems would collapse.
With more schools closed, the roles of providing childcare and education as well as care for the family are also upon the woman in the household. Women are also working for pay amidst it. Many of these women, especially those of color, are also part of the “low‐wage front line workers.” The team wrote, “Many have no choice but to go to work even when they are at risk of contracting the virus or they are sick, and they cannot telecommute.” Women being responsible for social reproduction are also the ones to give up paid work for unpaid work at home, such as child care and caring for the ill at home. Women are also more likely to be single parents, which raises the pressure on them for both providing care as well as financial support. These factors have an intense effect on the physical and mental health of the women, they wrote.
Gender-aware policies are those that recognize the service provided by women outside their paid work. The authors of the study write that these policies should be developed with a feminist perspective, especially during these difficult times.
The United States, for example, provided a COVID‐19 relief package on the 18th of March that provides “paid family and medical leave during this crisis to care for a sick or at‐risk family member or oneself.” This applies to all employees who need to care for children who are home because schools and daycares are closed. Other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co‐operation and Development) countries also have similar policies. Problems exist in poorer countries.
COVID crisis at home
COVID crisis at home means not only extra responsibilities for women but also an increased risk of domestic violence.
The authors of the study write, “Efforts to mitigate intimate partner violence as tensions mount within households from the health crisis and associated economic insecurity should be prioritized.”
Maternal and child care and their health need to remain a priority in developing nations, they added. Women need to be able to access reproductive healthcare globally, they wrote.
The researchers said that with the given crisis, the physical and mental health of women is at stake. Since they are one of the viral care providers and their well being is related to the well being of society, this needs to be addressed.
The researchers conclude, “A comprehensive response to the COVID‐19 crisis must recognize this gendered work as an integral part of the economic system that promotes human wellbeing for all.”
- Bahn, K, Cohen, J, van der Meulen Rodgers, Y. A feminist perspective on COVID‐19 and the value of care work globally. Gender Work Organ. 2020; 27: 695– 699. https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12459