After celebrating International Women’s Day, it is time to look at why we must keep talking about women’s rights during the pandemic.
Last week, the world celebrated International Women’s Day with heart emojis and special dedications to women on social media. While this is all well and good, there is still much work to be done. African Ringer looks at five reasons why women’s rights should be on the top of the agenda every week, every day – these issues have become even more pronounced during the pandemic.
More women have lost their jobs during the pandemic
The pandemic has led to an economic downturn that some say mirrors that of the Great Depression. The disturbing feature of this recession is that it is hitting women harder than men. Economists call it a “shecession”. According to the management consulting company McKinsey and Company, women are 1.8 times more likely to lose their job during the pandemic globally.
The reasons behind signal larger gender inequalities. Women have traditionally taken the brunt of unpaid work at home – house chores, caring for the children and elderly. As schools and daycare institutions have been closed during the pandemic, more women have had to juggle both their paid job and their unpaid jobs at home. This has led to many women leaving their jobs according to researchers.
Secondly, women are disproportionately represented in industries that have been hit hard by social distancing rules and lockdowns, such as hotels, restaurants, and retail. Women are also substantially overrepresented in the informal economy, according to UN Women, occupying jobs such as domestic workers, farmers, or street vendors that are likely to be affected by Covid restrictions or that leave women without protection or insurance.
While this is all in all bad news for the global economy, the “shecession” also highlights the need for a less segregated labor market, resistant to future epidemics, and less stereotypical gender roles at home.
Violence against women is on the rise
Stress, economic hardship, isolation, decreased access to services are experienced by millions during the pandemic and these are also some of the factors that can lead to increased violence against women. For the past year, we have heard of an increase in domestic violence.
According to a statement by Amnesty International in February, gender-based violence has also “escalated” across Eastern and Southern Africa during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an escalation in gender-based violence against women and girls in Southern Africa. It has also magnified existing structural problems such as poverty, inequality, crime, high unemployment, and systematic criminal justice failures,” according to Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
Early marriage and teenage pregnancy jeopardize girls’ education
According to the UN Population Fund, the pandemic will mean a devastating blow to education for millions of girls, as the agency predicts that Covid-19 will lead to 13 million extra child marriages in the coming ten years. Many of those will be in African countries, as more parents struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic and marrying off their daughter is one of few solutions to feed the family. Girls have also been at increased risk of teenage pregnancy during lockdown and school closures, finding themselves isolated at home with their sexual abusers or spending more time with local boys or men.
During the coming weeks, African Ringer will take a deep dive into the reasons behind exacerbated gender inequalities during the pandemic and look at solutions that governments and organizations should consider.