PES Women: Women are on the front line of the corona-crisis, yet gender-issues are being ignored

20/03/2020

COVID-19

Red Cross staff in Brive, France, set up a tent in front of a hospital emergencies department for patients suspected of having COVID-19. Credit: MAXPPP

As the COVID-19 virus is spreading throughout the world and governments are scaling up containment efforts, PES Women stands in solidarity with the women who are carrying the bulk of this crisis.

PES Women President, Zita Gurmai said:  

“COVID-19 is a threat to all of us, but it also exacerbates existing gender inequalities. All over Europe, we are hearing heart-warming calls for solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our communities. Let’s extend that solidarity also to the women shouldering the heavy burden of caring for the sick, the young and the vulnerable. We are not yet seeing enough action to address the gendered impacts of the pandemic. We have to make sure to speak up about these issues, to put the necessary political, social and economic infrastructures in place to support women in this crisis but also to install prevention mechanisms for upcoming ones.”

Women are disproportionately represented in professions where exposure to the virus is high, such as nurses, nursing home staff, flight attendants, cashiers, teachers and service industry workers.  According to the World Health Organization, women make up 70% of the global health and social workforce. The corona-crisis puts women at disproportionate risk, not just of exposure to the virus but also economically. With threats of an economic downturn looming, women with low-income and precarious jobs may also be affected long-term by the economic fallout from the crisis. 

At home, women also face a heightened risk because, on average, they undertake the majority of household chores and unpaid care work. They are carrying the extra burden as schools and nurseries close, and elderly and vulnerable relatives need more help with errands. The disease is most easily spread between family members who are in frequent contact, so this means women face a higher risk of exposure to the virus at home. On top of this, increased care responsibilities, anxiety and economic instability place a huge mental toll on women, and particularly on single mothers.

Social distancing and quarantine also impact domestic violence.  22% of women in the EU have experienced violence by an intimate partner and in times of crisis this can escalate. For women in abusive relationships, being forced to isolate with their abuser is not safe - staying at home may be as dangerous as any virus. 

On top of that, social and institutional support services, as well as emergency hotlines for domestic violence, may now be operating under a reduced service. Even in the best of circumstance, women at risk of violence are often ignored. That is why it is more important than ever that authorities do not lose sight of this issue. They must inform and train police, as well as other support services, so that they can adapt to changing patterns of domestic and intimate partner violence in times of crisis. The importance of EU-wide ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention can no longer be denied.

The coronavirus presents many threats to women, but these are not unique to this crisis or to Europe. They occur across the globe in times of war and natural disaster. The crisis we face now illustrates why it is always vital to assess gender-specific threats, so we can combat them. We must not ignore similar issues when others face them, we must show solidarity. For example, with refugee women and children in overcrowded camps in Greece. Their health and safety  - already under threat from fascist attacks, sexual violence, psychological strain, and more - is being further jeopardised by COVID-19. We must show solidarity - they are on the front line of this crisis too.

Let’s take the overwhelming solidarity that is being shown all over the world, and let’s make sure it is being extended to all women. We can leave no one behind in this crisis.