Gendered Inclusive Opportunities of COVID-19
A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast which invited Luis Ballesteros, an Assistant Professor at The George Washington University to speak to research on a book that he contributed to, authored by Howard Kunreuther and Michael Useem entitled Mastering Catastrophic Risk: How Companies are Coping with Disruption. The professor echoed the intelligence of the role that not only government, but most audibly, the private sector in aiding the relief of pandemics in their respective economies such as the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Another point of conversation that was lightly touched on was what the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in their “Global Humanitarian Overview 2020” report , estimated to be 168 million, the most vulnerable people in the world, prone to the recent pandemic and what could be done for them. This is what we’ll unpack in the next few paragraphs, but first, let’s lay a foundation for what Covid-19 is before we dive into how we as society, together with other respective stakeholders can enable preparedness from a gendered impact perspective economically and socio-economically.
First detected in China in December 2019, COVID-19 has since spread to 169 regions or countries and more than 329 000 cases globally, with Italy leading with 5 476 deaths as on 23 March 2020 according to the John Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Centre. The numbers of the cases are expected to rise exponentially over the next coming weeks and months, and cases in developing nations too are rising, with the vulnerable susceptible to the exposure in different parts of the world.
For this particular article, we’ll focus on the gendered implications of COVID-19 in affecting the vulnerable, exploring the measurable impact that this pandemic will have on women, and how past data proves that women and young girls are going to become the most affected economically and socio-economically, and present ideas on how to futureproof this risk for the public sector, private sector and civilians.
One of the consequences of poverty is gendered discrimination, which means that women are disproportionally burdened when the assault of catastrophic events such as COVID-19 take place. In the past, episodes like the 2010 Haitian cholera outbreak, the 2014–16 West Africa Ebola virus disease (EVD) event and the 2016 Zika boutade, with research supported by the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) shows how this burden of caregiving is entrusted with the consequences of the risk of infection, being responsible of running of the household and the prevention and rescue tactics with being exposed to mental and physical harm and the economic role of sustenance provision by seeking financial assistance. With COVID-19, although men (and older people) are much more prone to mortality rates and being infected, it’s the caregivers who are engaging with the risk, and women compose of larger parts of the health workforce
In realising the data and intelligence of both the past and present, here are some measures of what can be done in creating six (6) inclusive response measures:
· Misinformation spreads fear faster than COVID-19 itself and leads to practices that resist the acceleration of the healing of the exposed and infected. It’s important to be proactive in sharing information, as it is in creating responses that are intersectional in how they’re being consumed and analysed. Languages, gender, nationality, disabilities, economic status are important utilities in creating the information and sharing it to ensure no discrimination. Instilling behavioural change should also mean to allow for this information to be accessible and affordable for civilians by zero-rating certain websites and using traditional media which the greater population has access to and can afford.
· The rise of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation cases in times of outbreaks affects women and other marginalised groups, and investing in organisations that are already on the ground and with access to mobile services that can reach urban, peri-urban and rural areas where the women will be affected is important.
· A notable effort from the public and private sectors is the relief financing for not only employees, but for small business owners who will be heavily impacted by COVID-19, and these include holidays and funds set up by economic development ministries globally like the Federal Coronavirus Small Business Assistance in the US and the Debt Relief Fund in South Africa.
· COVID-19 calls upon social distancing, or as the World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages, “physical distancing”, and this is as a phenom that is supporting of trying to limit the spread of the virus as it is classist. In developing markets, the informal sector makes a large contribution to the GDP of a nation, as well as the majority of the (low) income earners of the population and the trading is offline. What happens when physical distancing discriminates against those unable to do so as it affects their means of creating income? Provision for a fund towards the lower-income earning women and informal traders that pays out the average income earned or minimum wage (of a nation) and trainings to upskill.
· The previous proposal above links much to this next one: (greater) Investment in research and development that will inform gendered solutions during catastrophic events. According to “A Gendered Human Rights Analysis Of Ebola And Zika: Locating Gender In Global Health Emergencies” study, less than 1% of published research papers on previous health pandemics were on the gendered implications and dynamics of such outbreaks. We cannot be prepared for an emergency like COVID-19 and deploy resources without the informed resources of how and who to deploy the unique resources to.
· In order to create and implement policies that are focused on addressing a population that will be impacted the most, representation matters. Now is the time to continuously raise the profile of women in global health and ensure thought leadership is not only bound to the stages of conferences, but authoring research papers and sitting in boardrooms influencing policies that are nuanced to the unique solutions needed.
There’s no cure for COVID-19 at present, and countries like China and the US are racing to find a vaccine to ensure that the accelerated effort of the virus to kill and infect minimizes. In the meantime, as global citizens, it is out duty and responsibility to keep each other accountable for physical distancing, being self-quarantined or isolated, people’s lives depend on it. Out of this pandemic, is the hope for more research into the gendered implications of such events and the opportunities for economies, the greater society and the private sector to invest in inclusive measures that are focused on enriching the economic prowess of women, and their participation in global health.
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