Policy Response to COVID-19 Needs to be Gender Sensitive. Here’s Why.

Women healthcare workers are amongst those who are worse affected by COVID 19 crisis. PC: Economic Times

COVID 19 has emerged as a deadly global health pandemic. The pandemic has already infected 2.25 million people across 210 countries across the globe causing 0.15 million deaths. Currently, most of the efforts are in providing medical response to the situation and focused on diagnosis, isolation and treatment. 

Health professionals and social health workers are at the forefront of COVID 19 response risking their lives in absence of adequate protection and resource shortage.

Health care professionals are under great psychological stress too, fighting against the stigma and discrimination from the same people who they are protecting and saving them from the fatal disease.

Women form a substantial part of the workforce dealing with COVID 19. Globally, 70 percent of the health services work force comprises of women health professionals. 

This clearly highlights the pivotal role played by women in COVID 19 response. However, at the same time they are also the most vulnerable to the highly contagious virus. 

The infection rates among women healthcare workers needs to be inspected closely for gender differences and Gender-based action plans must be drafted separately for the healthcare workers.

While they are at the front-line of primary health services working with the communities, only 25% of them are in senior roles. Women are hardly considered as stakeholders for policy design which is extremely important in emergency situations like COVID-19

Percentage of Global distribution of Health workers India and world. Source: WHO report, 2019

Poor conditions for the people stranded due to lockdown and extreme poverty are most likely to amplify the resource constraint and raise the demand for resources especially for women. 

There is enough evidence to substantiate that the aftermath of disaster increases girl and women trafficking and forcing them into prostitution due to economic stress.

Psychological stress due to social distancing, overcrowding, increasing heat conditions, no income generation and increase in household burden will affect women and girls. No social space for women who are suffering with psychological stress will further affect the women. 

UNFPA maintains that “nearly 48 million women and girls, including 4 million pregnant women, are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2020, the dangers that COVID-19 outbreaks pose will be magnified

Given the economic slowdown and recession in formal and informal sector, women’s participation and engagement in livelihood and income generation will be massively affected. 

One doesn’t need to emphasize that with economic uncertainty looming large, women are more likely to lose jobs than men. According to ILO, women represent less than 40% of total employment but make up 57% of those working in a temporary employment. 

An immediate consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, economies are looking at job cuts and layoffs and among these the part-time workers, i.e. women, are expected to bear the brunt first.

The fall in household income will lead to girls dropping out of the schools, reducing their participation in social and economic decision making. It is of utmost importance for policymakers to assess the gender specific vulnerability and impacts of public health disasters like COVID 19. 

Post-COIVD19 socio economic action plans should also be gender sensitive as the outfall of the lockdown will affect men and women differently affecting women severely.

The manifold impacts on the gender calls for a gendered approach to COVID-19 responses. Here it is important to highlight that aggregated data being managed currently is producing only gender-neutral policies to deal with COVID-19. 

To enable a gender sensitive response some steps should immediately to shape a more equitable landscape. To start off it is important to develop a disaggregated data that also includes gender along with their age group, disabilities and ensure that policy making takes this data for putting in place a policy prescription. 

For this an engagement of existing women’s network and their support could be sought to support connectivity and secure vital actionable information. Measures to be taken for the pandemic management should be based on strong gender analysis, taking into account gendered roles, responsibilities, and dynamics.

The policy makers need to design gender sensitive action plans for relief, response and rehabilitation for this public heath disaster.

Rohit Magotra

Rohit Magotra is the Deputy Director of IRADe. He is currently leading action research on climate change and cities. His work focuses on advocating climate resilient health systems for coping with public health issues like heat stress, air pollution and vector borne diseases.

Nimisha Jha

Nimisha is a Senior Research Analyst with the Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe). She works in the area of climate change policy, governance and municipal management.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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