FAR FROM EQUAL

Women need extra protection during, after pandemic

Kenyan women spend 11.1 hours on unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, fetching firewood and childcare

In Summary

• In many countries, women perform unpaid care work for more hours than men.

• Experience shows that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence increases during crises and disasters when people are under stress.

Gender inequality.
UNBALANCED: Gender inequality.
Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted women's unequal position in society, their vulnerability to domestic violence, lack of healthcare access and their economic poverty.

The World Economic Forum said women will play a critical role in resolving the crisis and measures put in place to address Covid-19 and its economic fallout should include a gender perspective.

"Regardless of where one looks, it is women who bear most of the responsibility for holding societies together, be it at home, in healthcare, at school or in caring for the elderly," it said in brief in collaboration with Project Syndicate.

In many countries, women perform these tasks without pay. Yet even when the work is carried out by professionals, those professions tend to be dominated by women and tend to pay less than male-dominated professions, it said.

Data from UN Women show Kenyan women spend 11.1 hours on unpaid care work such as cooking, cleaning, fetching firewood, taking care of children, the sick and elderly - compared to just 2.9 hours by men.

The UN organisation expressed concern that as the infection rates rise, so will the burden on women and their vulnerability to Covid-19 and domestic violence.

According to the World Economic Forum, experience shows that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence increases during crises and disasters.

"It happened during the 2014-16 Ebola and 2015-16 Zika epidemics and it appears to be happening now. Under conditions of quarantine or stay-at-home measures, women and children who live with violent and controlling men are exposed to considerably greater danger," it said.

In Kenya, the national gender-based violence hotline registered 201 cases between February and March while the Federation of Women Lawyers' hotline registered 81 cases of GBV between April and May. 

Additionally, the need to support survivors of violence will only increase when the crisis ends and people are able to move about freely again.

"We must ensure that women's shelters and other forms of assistance are maintained and strengthened accordingly. Governments and civil society groups must provide more resources such as emergency housing and telephone helplines, perhaps leveraging mobile technologies in innovative ways, as is happening in many other domains," the World Economic Forum said.

It also called for support of women in the healthcare and social services sectors by providing more resources for those with primary responsibility for household work including caring for infected family members, subjecting them to even greater risks.

"The majority of those on the front lines of the pandemic are women because women make up 70 per cent of all health and social services staff globally," read the brief.

"Despite this, women tend to have less access to health services than men do."

Worse, in several countries that experienced previous pandemics, providing sexual and reproductive health services, including prenatal and maternal care and access to contraceptives and safe abortions, was reduced as soon as resources needed to be reallocated for the crisis.

"Such defunding for women and girls must be prevented at all costs," read the brief.

Women also continue to remain economically vulnerable and women's personal finances are weaker than men's as and their position in the labour market less secure.

"Moreover, women are more likely to be single parents who will be hit harder by the economic downturn now in full swing," the brief read.

Given these differences, it is critical that economic crisis-response measures account for women’s unique situation.

Particularly in conflict zones and other areas where gender equality receives short shrift, women and girls risk being excluded from decision-making processes and potentially being left behind altogether.

(Edited by V. Graham)