August 05, 2020
Since the pandemic started, the particularly serious consequences of COVID-19 on women have been exposed. It is not, of course, that the virus affects the body of men or women differently, but rather its ability to show us multiple ways in which our societies impose burdens and punishments on them simply because they are women, while discussing the hypocrisy that exists around gender equality.
Nothing new is said when pointing out the situation to which women are subjected in all areas covered by the SDGs, from health and education to poverty and the damage caused by “natural” disasters. The quarantine has made it clear that homes may be the worst place for some women, victims of domestic violence.
Other elements, however, have received less attention and will be equally linked to the patriarchal character and the distribution according to genres that derive from it. We all know that those who work in the health sector are at the front line of combat against COVID-19, being especially exposed.
Care activities, such as nursing, have traditionally been tied to the “protective” and “maternal” role of the patriarchal stereotype of women. Nursing was a “suitable role” for women, even in times of warfare. Today more than 70% of the health personnel worldwide are women, a number that grows in Latin America and the Caribbean to 80%. Namely, those who are exposing themselves on a daily basis taking care of sick people are women. However, the current crisis has also made it clear that health centers tend to have insufficient personal protective equipment corresponding to women’s sizes!
Only 25% of high positions in health matters are held by women. And only 20% of the world health organizations have executive councils where there is gender parity.
This reality is expressed, as expected, in terms of remuneration. The difference between the salary received by a man and a woman for the same job in the health sector is above the already unacceptable 19% average inequality salary, and it represents a gap close to 25%. This implies that for every dollar a male health worker earns doing his job, a woman will earn 75 cents.
Inequality in power positions, even in democratically elected governments, can also create a bridge between gender, health and discrimination: In Latin America and the Caribbean, only 9 of the 33 health ministries are led by women (Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia).
If in addition to this fact, we consider that it will be necessary to generate 40 million jobs in the health sector by 2030, it is easy to understand that if urgent actions and decisive measures in this area are not taken, we will move further and further away from achieving Sustainable Development Goal number 5 on gender equality, with negative impacts on multiple SDGs:
At the same time other SDGs will present setbacks such as SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities). Promoting that the health system continues to grow on the basis of this discrimination against women is not a real solution to the inequialities problem within it. The global health system is clearly unfair and discriminatory against women.
Something similar happens in other areas traditionally linked to the gender role imposed on women, such as education. In Latin America and the Caribbean three out of every four teachers are women and, as a consequence of the pandemic, they face the burden of closed schools and adaptation to virtual education forms for which they have not been properly trained, in home spaces where they should assume most of the effort of domestic and care tasks, and with unequal access to technologies: In the period 2017-2018, 63% of men had access to the internet, versus 57% of women.
Of course there are other forms of violence against women, less evident than domestic violence, exacerbated by the pandemic: Fewer resources for sexual and reproductive health care (it should be remembered here that the 2030 Agenda was regressive in this sense, using on three occasions the reference to “sexual and reproductive health” instead of the most advanced and pertinent: “Sexual rights and reproductive rights”), the interruptions in global supply chains that affect the availability of products such as tampons, creating new pressures on women facing specific health care needs that add to the already known “pink rate” (SPA): Price premiums for female consumption products.
COVID-19 attacks everyone equally. Our social practices, no.
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