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4 Ways COVID-19 Disproportionately Affects Women

by Kate Harveston

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world, and people everywhere feel uncertain about when life will return to normal — and what things will look like once it does. In the meantime, women face additional pressures during already troubled times. 

From decreased access to essential health care services to a greater exposure to the virus, women can anticipate many ongoing changes over the coming months. Sadly, they remain more vulnerable, both physically and economically, in several ways. Here’s how the current outbreak disproportionately impacts women. 

1. Domestic Violence Victims Have Few Options 

Few things probably terrify a woman living with an abuser more than the news that she may have to shelter-in-place with her tormentor for the foreseeable future. However, that’s precisely what many domestic violence victims now must do per order of the government. Domestic abusers often act out more violently when they feel a loss of power and control — a condition that many now experience as they face job layoffs and an uncertain path forward. 

While shelters are considered essential services, many locations no longer see women in person, instead offering phone support. Women who fear they are at risk should reach out to a trusted friend or a family member to serve as a hotline in an emergency. They can establish a predetermined text message that seems innocuous but acts as a call to help, for example, “Did you end up ordering that pizza on Friday?” 

They should also identify a safe space in their home free from objects that could become weapons — like kitchen knives — and keep a phone nearby for calling 911. 

2. Women in Need of Health Care Will Suffer 

Health care is a necessity for everyone right now, but certain groups of people have even more limited access to doctors they need. Gynecological care, especially, is a necessity for many women; they need regular screening to protect against various gynecological conditions and test for pregnancy. If they’re not ready to become parents, they may need to attend birth control appointments, as many methods remain unavailable over the counter. Sadly, many sliding-scale clinics now have reduced hours, and those who recently lost jobs in the downturn could find themselves without the reproductive health care they need most in an emergency. 

Furthermore, several states have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to push their anti-abortion agenda. Several states have declared abortion providers nonessential services and ordered them to shut their doors. Additionally, rural providers who typically fly into the areas they serve now find themselves stymied due to cancellations and delays. When coupled with strict laws prohibiting the procedure over a specified number of weeks, many women could find themselves carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. 

3. Women Disproportionately Work in Caring Roles 

If I asked you to picture a nurse or a childcare provider, right or wrong, you’d likely visualize a woman performing the role. Women make up a disproportionate percentage of the care workers who serve on the front lines of the pandemic: if they care for children, they may suddenly find themselves out of work. If they work in a health care setting, they may fear getting sick or bringing the virus home to their families. 

Furthermore, women make up a large percentage of lower-income hospitality workers. Even though there are many within the industry, they make up only 12% of corporate-level positions. They’re more likely to work on the bottom rung of the ladder for tips, meaning they face severe economic hardship during this shutdown. 

4. Women Maintain an Already Frantic Second Shift

When the kids are at home, childcare often falls to the female partner in heterosexual relationships. During COVID-19, these responsibilities will grow exponentially. Parents are no longer merely guardians but homeschool teachers, as well. Plus, extended time cooped up indoors means the little ones make more of a mess than usual — and you can’t exactly send them to the playground when you’re ready to scream in frustration. 

Women who now find themselves working from home may face increased pressure to do it all, and their careers may suffer as a result. Employers can ease the burden somewhat by implementing more flextime measures. This practice allows for the interruptions that invariably occur when the world is in chaos. It also treats employees like the responsible adults they are, not children waiting to slack off in class, which impacts morale. 

Even though news outlets typically focus on the way COVID-19 kills more men than women, that doesn’t mean women won’t feel a significant strain. In many ways, the virus will disrupt their lives more severely than their male counterparts, so give the ladies in your life some extra respect and support during this time.

Top photo by Ravi Roshan / Unsplash

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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