The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship hosted an event that discussed the different dimensions of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event took place on June 16, 2022, and was live-streamed via Zoom. This event was chaired by Dr. Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay, an Asfari Institute Fellow & Associate at Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam, and the speakers participating were Dr. Naila Kabeer, a Professor of Gender & Development at the London School of Economics, Lina Abou Habib, the Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, and Jashodhara Dasgupta, an independent researcher and co-convenor of the Feminist Policy Collective.
Some of us have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic harsher than others, and this is related to inequalities evident in gender. Gender being the most pervasive of inequalities, cuts across all societies, within societies, across different classes and social groups. Privileges of wealth are also related to gender; for example, the top richest men in the world are all men, and 7 of them live in the United States.
However, the top 10 richest women, being poorer than the richest men, are spread out in different geographic areas. During the pandemic, minorities and Muslims were the first and most to die in the pandemic in the UK and across the world. This is due to some of the essential workers being privileged white doctors staying in offices, giving orders, and having protection nets, leading to remaining safe and not dying, while ethnic minorities were on the ground.
In addition, we have non-essential workers who can keep on working at home and their income streams remain; however, some of them were laid off with no safety nets. Yet, even the protected non-essential workers faced issues as access to broadband internet and ownership of personal computers to work from home was not present for poorer women in the global south.
Globally, approximately 40% of all women workers, work in sectors that were hardest hit economically by the pandemic. These sectors include hotel and food services and wholesale. In addition, over 70% of front-line essential workers in health and social services are women. However, it was more likely for women to lose their jobs than men in the informal economy sectors where working women are highly concentrated.
Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable due to the manner of official responses to the pandemic especially when it comes to restrictions on transportation during the lockdown. As a result of the pandemic, a majority of small traders and wage laborers were made jobless. This resulted in labor migrants doing to major cities to work as cleaners, helpers, assistants, packers, washers, construction laborers, or domestic workers.
Data from the US indicates that unemployment rates for women exceeded those of men during the early months of the pandemic, but they were even higher for Hispanic women and Black women especially women in low-wage occupations such as cashiers and childcare workers. In France, reports of domestic violence have increased by 30% since the lockdown on March 17.
In Cyprus and Singapore, helplines have registered an increase in calls of 30% and 33% respectively. Increased cases of domestic violence and demand for emergency shelter have also been reported in Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the US. In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence cases have increased 25% since the lockdown.
Community-based frontline workers in India were a community of women termed as part-time volunteers that were responsible for a certain number of households as health volunteers (accompanying women in labor to hospitals), managing centers for nutrition monitoring and distribution of supplementary nutrition, and daycare for children. In response to the pandemic, in addition to all the tasks they are already responsible for they had to conduct visits to report symptomatic cases, monitoring of incoming migrants, maintain documentation, spread awareness, and mobilize vaccination.
Yet they are considered part-time volunteers and not real workers. This results in preventing women from entering the market and positioning them unequally in the labor market. In addition, by labeling them as volunteers and retaining them in informal working arrangements, the state has erased its own obligations around fair wages and social security. They banked heavily on unpaid and underpaid care work by women to fill the gaps. The pandemic exposed the flaws of this model that showed how women are struggling with the enhanced burdens of household care work.
What is needed is a complete reformation of our macroeconomic frameworks such as investing in strengthening public systems for health and nutrition, in addition to stopping treating the underpaid care jobs as extensions of gendered caregiving and nurturing roles of women within households. This can help create a more caring economy, while also ensuring job creation for women.
This summary was written by Sarah Sabra.
Meet the speakers and moderator
- Dr. Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay, Asfari Institute Fellow & Associate at Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam
- Dr. Naila Kabeer, Professor of Gender & Development at the London School of Economics
- Lina Abou Habib, Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship
- Jashodhara Dasgupta, Independent Researcher & Co-Convenor of the Feminist Policy Collective
Watch the full recording here: