There’s the pandemic you know about, and all too well. It’s rightfully crowding the headlines of your newspaper and occupying the minds of government leaders. It’s taking loved ones, imperiling heroes in scrubs, threatening neighbors at the cash register, and suddenly turning parents everywhere into teachers. Then, there’s the shadow pandemic, which is rapidly unraveling the limited, but precious progress that the world has made toward gender equality in the past few decades.

This shadow pandemic can be seen in the form of domestic violence, economic crunch – initially affecting one person and finally trickling down to the entire family and adverse impact on health. Not to mention all these crises already did exist but with countries going in a state of lockdown these shadows are growing much stronger to the extent where they no longer are a shadow but an entity, a reality undeniable and unforgettable. Undeniable because we all see it coming, we all know it will happen and it is already happening yet we are living with it making us appear as if somewhere we have accepted it. However, at the same time, it is unforgettable because the scars will stay forever, apparently hidden, yet so visible and clear as an experience and memory for a lifetime.

Women are already suffering the deadly impact of lockdowns and quarantines. These restrictions are essential but increase the risk of violence towards women trapped with abusive partners and cut-off from social and institutional support. The UN Secretary-General recently stated“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19. But they can trap women with abusive partners.” Also, these threats are taking new complexities as abusers are exploiting the inabilities of women escaping from home for working to support family, or be able to call for help through NGOs or other organizations as support services are already strained due to minimal operations and shutdowns on part of organizations as well. 

Second, domestic violence is the economic impact. It will be rightful to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly aggravating the economic inequalities faced by women. Women are disproportionately represented in poorly paid jobs without benefits, as domestic workers, casual laborers, street vendors, and in small-scale services like hairdressing. These jobs come with fewer pays, weaker legal protection, and difficulties accessing social protection. The International Labour Organization estimates that nearly 200 million jobs will be lost in the next three months alone — many in these sectors. “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protection and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is, therefore, less than that of men.” Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women.

Finally, we need to chalk down the impact on women healthcare coming along as an undetachable byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women in marginalized and underdeveloped communities are most likely to remain uneducated their entire life. They usually rely on men or their nearby village clinics or dispensaries for advice and guidelines on healthcare and other diseases and therefore online medical advice systems and health messages are not much of a help to them as they are unable to comprehend this knowledge. With small clinics and dispensaries being either closed or limited on timings and a number of patients a day, the risk of women’s health deteriorating increases every day. “Women and girls have unique health needs, but they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines, and vaccines, maternal and reproductive health care, or insurance coverage for routine and catastrophic health costs, especially in rural and marginalized communities.” Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women

Furthermore, studies reveal that women make around 70% of the global healthcare workers as the frontline people catering to the increasing surging demand for this pandemic. This further increases their risk due to direct exposure with the infected patients and short of personal protection equipment (PPE) which is more available to men than to women. If it is available even then the size of the equipment is made on standard (generally male size) size to fit everyone which still does not serve the purpose for women as either it would be too big or too loose for them.“Special attention needs to be given to the health, psychosocial needs, and work environment of frontline female health workers, including midwives, nurses, community health workers, as well as facility support staff.” Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women

It serves as a reminder that although things have improved for some, we still live in an unequal society. There is much work to be done to lift people out of poverty and to remove barriers, allowing each of us to fulfill our potential. This work must be included in economic metrics and decision-making. We will all gain from arrangements that recognize people’s caring responsibilities and inclusive economic models valuing work in the home.

For building more equal and resilient communities we need to consider women’s interests and rights, front and center, with consideration to all the aspects impacting COVID-19 adversities on gender equality. 

Contributed by: Fiza Minal Mazhar, Social Activist 

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