How Has the Pandemic Regressed the Rights of Women?
There can be no question of doubt that this pandemic has been hard on all of us, but recent research suggests that it has actually regressed the rights of women, particularly within the workforce. Global data from UN Women reports that this pandemic could set back women’s rights 25 years, since women are having to do more domestic work.
Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. The pandemic has disproportionately affected women because of the existing structures in place which uphold the patriarchy. With schools being shut, and limited childcare options available, many women have been forced to take unpaid leave from work in order to look after their children – with little help from the men in their lives. This has led to reinforced gender roles – men being the “breadwinners” whilst women complete domestic and childcare work, which are indicative of society in the 1950s.
So why hasn’t the government taken this into account when dealing with the pandemic? They haven’t recognised childcare as an essential social infrastructure which has not only resulted in a widening of gender inequality, but has also led to a bigger recession in the economy. This was also an issue before the pandemic started, as it was estimated that women are doing three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world, yet the government has failed to take action to prevent this widening gap of inequality.
Not only have women suffered in the workforce, but also in terms of sexual and reproductive health. Clinics that offer contraceptive methods, such as the coil and the implant, were forced to shut down in April, and even when they re-opened, there was uncertainty about future security of contraception for women. In addition to this, many women who were pregnant were forced to attend hospital appointments alone, and women who suffered miscarriages in hospitals had to go through it all without their partner. Clearly, lockdown restrictions did not take into account the mental wellbeing of pregnant women, as well as the reproductive health of women who want to avoid pregnancy.
Without government intervention, the road to recovery in terms of both gender equality and the economy could be long and painful; by 2030 the global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower if women’s unemployment tracked that of men in each sector. Therefore, women’s contributions to the global economy shouldn’t be underestimated, and the government should be doing more to prioritise this issue. It feels as though we have been thrown back into the 1950s, with defined binary gender roles and limited career prospects for women. It comes across as redundant and performative for the government to celebrate International Women’s Day when little is being done to actually progress and protect the rights of women.