COVID-19 and Its Detrimental Effects on Women

COVID 19 has affected millions of people worldwide and has led to over 92.3 million infections.

Right here in Kenya, we have over 99,000 infections in 10 months. It’s crazy to think that we have surpassed the one year mark yet we thought it would only last a month or at most three. They have been so many challenges- loss of income, nationwide curfews, lock-downs, no social interactions- in dealing with the virus, but people worldwide have faced them head-on. It is not a secret that it hasn’t been easy but the spirit of resilience has kept people strong and unwavering. Unfortunately 1.98 million people have died due to the virus. May their souls rest in peace.

Effects of a crisis are never gender neutral and covid-19 is no exception. For the domestic worker in Uganda, the pandemic has meant having no job. For the casual workers in Kenya, the pandemic has meant no employment and no unemployment benefits. For the single mother in Kibera, the night curfew has meant less time to make money. For the employed youths, the pandemic has meant pay cuts and unpaid dues. For the unemployed, it has meant fewer opportunities to gain employment. For countless women, it has meant unemployment and domestic work over-burden.  While everyone is experiencing challenges brought about by the pandemic, women are bearing the brunt of the social and economic fallout of Covid-19.

Girls and women especially from marginalized communities and those with disabilities have faced many more challenges since covid-19 hit. From health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex. Here are some effects of COVID-19 on women:

Loss of Employment

When COVID-19 hit, people were encouraged to stay home. with that, many domestic workers were sent packing. For domestic workers – 80% of who are women- they have had to deal with the gruesome effects of unemployment during a pandemic.  According to statistics, 72% of domestic workers have lost their jobs.

Mary, a 30 year old domestic worker in Nairobi shares her challenging situation;

“I am the sole breadwinner for my family and since the pandemic hit, it has been hard to secure a job. It is quite unfortunate that we cannot work from home and earn our salary regularly. Domestic workers should also be entitled to a salary during crisis. I hope and pray that I find a job soon. Times are really hard.”

In the absence of help from employers, domestic workers need assistance. Workers’ associations, unions and the government need to step in and fill in the gap. They need to come up with ways in which domestic workers can earn a living and bring relief to them.

It is not only women domestic workers who have had to lose their jobs but also women from various sectors of the economy. The pandemic has had businesses on their knees, leading to increase in women unemployment (as compared to men).

According to a report by American Progress, the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.

The report further revealed that four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force in September, roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men.

Lack of Proper Healthcare Services

Even before the pandemic, women have had issues with access to healthcare and now with the pandemic, it’s twice as worse. The increased diversion of attention and critical resources to COVID-19 may result in exacerbated maternal mortality, increased rates of adolescent pregnancies, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is estimated that an additional 18 million women will lose regular access to modern contraceptives, given the current context of COVID-19 pandemic. Right here in Kenya, there has been an increase in maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity. Here is an in-depth article of the state of affairs in Kenya.

It is important that governments ensure that women still continue to gain access to standard healthcare especially for sexual and reproductive health.

Higher Risk of Coronavirus Infection

Women have a higher risk of infection due to the occupational sex-segregation. Worldwide, women make up 70% of the health workforce – who are leading the fight against the contagious virus. They also make up a majority of the health facility service staff. It is also quite unfortunate that women have less access to personal protective equipment or correctly sized equipment.

A majority of health workers have been forced to stay away from their families in fear of infecting them. I read from Voanews how Mary Waweru, a health worker from Tigoni said that her family thought she had abandoned them because she had to limit contact with her family and I really felt for her. See what she said below;

“I saw myself as a virus, I will go and infect my children infect my husband and even my mum and dad, so I detached completely. So, there was one time my daughter waited for me at night, that day I got home at 11 p.m., so she asked me, ‘Mum, don’t you love us anymore?’ That was at 11 p.m. That was my punch line.”

It is critical that governments ensure health workers have access to proper equipment.  Special attention needs to be given to the health, psycho social needs and work environment of front line female health workers, including midwives, nurses, community health workers, as well as facility support staff. It has been found that masks and covers that were sized using the ‘default man’ size often leave women more exposed.

Increase in Gender-Based Violence

Data shows that women and girls have experienced increased gender based violence due to lock-downs and isolation. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that one in three women will experience violence during their lifetime. And now, women are trapped with their abusers with lock-downs and isolations in place. They have been heartbreaking reports on how bad the situation is for women worldwide. It is quite unfortunate that women have had to die due to domestic violence during this pandemic. A recent report that hit  the headlines was on a 16 year old girl who was kept captive by a man for four days. For the four days, Juliet was battered and raped simply because the attacker wanted female company during the curfew hours. I’ll write deeper about this particular topic in a different article so that you see for yourselves how many young girls have suffered during this pandemic.

It is important that governments set up effective national responses to women. It may be difficult for some women to speak out about such injustices due to the lack of private spaces, thus the need to provide women with channels to speak out.

This pandemic has brought to light the many inequalities women face.  We already knew these inequalities existed but the pandemic has put a magnifying glass on them, showing the need for immediate action. The COVID-19 pandemic with its social and economic impact has created a global crisis. As stakeholders lead the fight against the virus, they need to ensure that the response plans address the gender impact on the pandemic.

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