The pandemic is hurting women more than men

Mary Koczan, left, and Dennis Arnott, with his wife Jane, work on decorating, Saturday, August 22, 2020, in Sheboygan, Wis., Arnott's 1967 VW bus before a parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote

At the outset of the pandemic earlier this year, people in high places said that the coronavirus was shaping up to be the "great equalizer." But, in fact, the twin health and economic effects of the pandemic have been anything but equal. The poor have suffered and died more than the rich. Ethnic minorities in Europe and the US have borne the brunt. Pre-existing inequalities have been exposed, and deepened, by the disease.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the pandemic's disproportionate impact on women. What are the particular challenges for women in this crisis, and what does recovery look like for over half of the world's population?


Health impacts and inequality. One major impact of the lockdowns for millions of women and girls around the world has been to limit their access to reproductive and sexual health services, particularly in developing countries.

The United Nations Population Fund predicts that there could be as many as 7 million unintended pregnancies globally this year because of COVID-related lockdowns, as well as transport and personnel shortages that have made it impossible for many to access abortions and contraception over the past six months.

Consider that in India, for example, almost three quarters of abortions are for medical purposes up to 7 weeks gestation. Indeed, research already shows that millions of Indian and Nepalese women — particularly those living in rural areas — have been impeded from accessing crucial medical care.

This isn't just an issue in the developing world. Even before the pandemic, many women's healthcare needs in America went unmet because of a lack of access. And the issue is even more dire for women of color. Black women in the United States were 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, while infant mortality rates were also disproportionately high for non-white Americans.

Indeed, unequal access to quality healthcare for women in developed countries like the US and the UK has been further compounded by the pandemic, which has overwhelmed hospitals in many cities and exhausted medical supply chains.

Disproportionate economic pain. Women have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19's economic aftershocks in two key ways.

First, at least 740 million women, 58 percent of the global female labor force, are employed in the "informal economy" — jobs that are not officially registered and therefore are mostly not eligible for benefits or social safety net provisions. (Nearly a fifth of all workers in the US have jobs in the informal sector.) This was the case back in March when the US Congress passed major relief measures — totaling more than $2 trillion — that did not extend adequate support for informal workers.

In low-income countries, meanwhile, a whopping 92 percent of women work in the informal sector. Clearly, the pandemic's economic burden disproportionately falls on women who are more likely to toil in the hard-hit informal and casual sectors.

Second, as a result of longstanding wage inequality and structural biases in recruitment, women were already at a disadvantage securing well-paying jobs and integrating into the workforce. Research shows that women also still shoulder the majority of unpaid domestic care work. That means that in places where schools and daycares were (or are) closed, childcare responsibilities have overwhelmingly fallen on women, preventing them from re-entering the workforce. There's precedent for this, too. Data shows that after the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa (2013-2016), women were disproportionately affected by job losses and took way longer to land steady jobs again after the crisis.

Gender-based violence: the shadow pandemic. While quarantines and lockdowns have helped curb the coronavirus' spread, they have also heightened the danger to women who live with abusive partners or family members.

In Colombia, for example, calls to domestic violence hotlines rose 90 percent after the government first called for mandatory lockdowns this past spring, while the EU said that domestic violence had risen by as much as 30 percent in some countries — a scourge the UN referred to as the "shadow pandemic," and a gross human rights violation.

Many observers fear that recent events will undo years of progress on mitigating gender-based violence, particularly in Latin America where protests against femicide (the killing of women) mobilized thousands of women earlier this year. It's within this context that Clare Wenham, a global-health policy expert, recently told The Atlantic that "the distorting effects of an epidemic can last for years," referring to the challenge of stopping the unraveling of decades of social progress.

Takeaway: Women, a majority of the world's population, are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Without addressing that aspect of recovery, there cannot, in a meaningful sense, be a real recovery at all.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

More Show less

Iran has vowed to avenge Sunday's attack on its Natanz nuclear facility. Tehran blames Israel, which — as in the past — has neither confirmed nor denied it was responsible. And all this happens just days after indirect talks on US plans to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna. What the Iranians do now will determine the immediate future of those negotiations, a Biden administration priority.

More Show less

The end of "forever" in Afghanistan: The Biden administration says it'll withdraw all remaining US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted Washington to invade the country in the first place. It's unclear how the withdrawal will affect American plans to steer intra-Afghan peace talks in the right direction under the terms of a peace agreement reached by the Trump administration and the Taliban in May 2020. Trump promised to pull out next month as long as the former al-Qaida hosts kept their end of the bargain by not launching deadly attacks (spoiler alert: they have not). Biden's move honors his campaign pledge to end a "forever war" that has claimed more than 2,300 American lives and cost the US Treasury almost $1 trillion since 2001. However, critics fear that a hasty departure could leave the Afghans helpless to prevent the Taliban from returning to power, rendering the entire mission not only expensive, but ultimately pointless.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week on World In 60: J&J vaccine woes, Blinken warns China, Fukushima water and a large rabbit.

How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

More Show less

750 million: While struggling with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world right now, India has approved Russia's Sputnik V COVID vaccine. Moscow has a deal in place to produce 750 million doses of the shot in India.

More Show less

In recent weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced early phases of vaccine trials in children, and Johnson & Johnson also plans to start soon. If you know a kid who wants to learn about vaccines, how they work, why we need them, this story is just what the doctor ordered.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A children’s book on vaccination

GZERO World Clips