COVID-19: The Revealer of Gender Inequity in Public Health

By Anindita Marwah


The COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) has been called an “equal-opportunity virus”(1). While the virus itself is not known to discriminate, this pandemic is proving to be a revealer of some the many deep-rooted health inequities that exist in our healthcare system, which are now being highlighted by the public health response to the outbreak.

With several control measures now in place to decrease the spread of COVID-19, it feels like everyone is going through the woes of physical distancing together. But women are going through a different experience during this pandemic: although men might be experiencing a higher number of cases and fatalities, women tend to bear the brunt of severe psychological impact, which can have serious long-term effects (2).

Under the government’s isolation orders, a higher number of women have been experiencing gender-based violence and intimate partner violence than before (3,4). Many people must now isolate with their abusers with no means of relief. Women who found their homes to be unsafe, and who found solace in going out to work or social events, can no longer rely on these physical escapes. Those without a phone or internet access are unable to report their abusers or physically escape them. There have also been reports of increases in domestic abuse killings, which include children (5).

The new work-from-home policies are absolutely necessary, but they come with side-effects that disproportionately affect the women in society. With schools closed, many women are now facing the challenge of working from home during a pandemic while also making sure their kids are kept busy. Too often the domestic responsibilities of childcare, housework, and running the household falls on them – this is in addition to trying to keep a full time job and some semblance of sanity (6). Mothers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds might not have resources for their children to access a web-based education system and could have the additional fear of pausing their kids’ education, further adding to the negative impacts on their health.

These unfair consequences of pandemic control measures are inevitable as long as these policies are implemented without considering the gendered inequities that already exist in the system. Government officials and public health experts have the responsibility to consider how these measures will affect women differently in the long-term, and should have a plan in place for vulnerable populations that are at-risk for other harmful side-effects of this pandemic.

Acts of domestic violence have been known to increase during past outbreaks (for example, during Ebola and Zika), but this information has yet to be incorporated into current pandemic control measures (7). To prevent collateral damage during these times, these measures need to be implemented with a gender lens and with experts in the field at the decision-making table. Data from past outbreaks need to be considered, informing future policies to control the pandemic. Otherwise there will continue to be long-term damage to the women in our global community.

References

1. Why are more men dying of COVID-19? [Internet]. Global News. Available from: https://globalnews.ca/news/6738088/coronavirus-deaths-men/

2. Blogs BG. Sex, gender and COVID-19: Disaggregated data and health disparities [Internet]. BMJ Global Health blog. 2020. Available from: https://blogs.bmj.com/bmjgh/2020/03/24/sex-gender-and-covid-19-disaggregated-data-and-health-disparities/

3. Henriques M. Why Covid-19 is different for men and women [Internet]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200409-why-covid-19-is-different-for-men-and-women

4. Thibault A. When home isn’t safe: Domestic violence spikes during COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. British Columbia. 2020. Available from: https://bc.ctvnews.ca/when-home-isn-t-safe-domestic-violence-spikes-during-covid-19-pandemic-1.4901752

5. Domestic abuse killings “more than double” amid Covid-19 lockdown [Internet]. the Guardian. 2020. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/15/domestic-abuse-killings-more-than-double-amid-covid-19-lockdown

6. Wenham C, Smith J, Morgan R. COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak. The Lancet. 2020 Mar 14;395(10227):846–8. 7. Lewis H. The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism [Internet]. The Atlantic. 2020. Available from: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/03/feminism-womens-rights-coronavirus-covid19/608302/

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