Gender Roles in the framework of COVID 19

Coronavirus is undoubtedly having a global impact and the world will not be the same as it was before it started. What is most shocking is the lack of preparedness within our societies for a crisis of this magnitude and the way we have had to adapt quickly in order to manage the situation. Universities, like other sectors, have had to adapt by transferring their activities to online settings. This change has been a great challenge, due to not only the infrastructure and technology needed, but also the training required to instruct staff and personnel to use these new tools and adjust to the new context.

Within this framework, there is no doubt that key activities have been prioritized and activities related to equality have taken a back seat. This has had a direct consequence on all projects, such as GEARING Roles, which were undertaking key processes of approving equality plans, and which will now undoubtedly be delayed. Other sister projects which are slightly more advanced in their execution will also find their activities affected. Some of these may be transferred to digital contexts, but for a lasting and sustainable promotion of structural change, face-to-face and co-creation activities are essential. This crisis will have irreversible effects on these projects, and it is likely that some of their will be permanently affected. When quarantine passes and countries can ease their rules and regulations, project meetings, workshops, networking events and conferences are still likely to be affected by full and partial restrictions. Projects like ours will have to seek new techniques and strategies to lighten the impact of this crisis in the struggle for gender equality in HEIs.

However, as our colleague María pointed out in her article for The Conversation our reflection on COVID 19 should go beyond the impact of the pandemic on our activities and structures. GEARING Roles, in addition to the implementation of 6 new equality plans, seeks to delve deep into the sociology and psychology of gender roles to explain and challenge gendered career choices, unequal representation of women and men in certain careers, and the social and cultural factors that shape these roles. In this regard, she gathers different experts  analysis on the impact that this crisis is having on gender roles. She starts mentioning  that several initiatives  like The Lancet journal or projects like Going FWD are calling for detailed research on the sex / gender variables of the pandemic.  They call for a detailed analysis of the impact of the virus on men and women , as it is  a necessary step for  a better understanding of “primary and secondary effects” of the diseaseon individuals and communities. It has already been pointed out that the data and figures that are being provided by various organizations on various countries should be disaggregated by sex and analyzed accordingly. In its latest newsletter, The German Society for Gender and Health has compiled databases, general information, literature and statistics on the crisis in order to analyze not only the biological aspects of the pandemic in terms of gender, but also a broad overview and understanding of the COVID-19 coronavirus from a gender perspective. The UN as well has released a Data Hub with detailed figures on different axes od the pandemia´s gender impact. A document published in 2017 by the UN also included a specific section on gender impact recommending the inclusion of a gender analysis in health emergency policies and recognizing the predominant role of women in health crises.

All these institutions seem to point out that, despite the fact that women make up 70% of the world’s medical personnel (Global Health 5050), there is little female representation in the institutions such as WHO, or even the white house (NYT), where strategies to tackle the virus are discussed and decided. Moreover, as highlighted by the study of our OBU colleague  Anne Laure Humbert, the work performed by nurses is not only socially undervalued because of the old fashioned view that links care duties with feminine roles, but also under paid. However this does not only affect to womes. Men are often ridiculed when they want to go into careers like nursing or teaching, as they are not considered masculine enough. In the same sense, Miguel Lorente reflects on how these stereotypes are translated into the language. Despite the numbers mentioned, society and media still use masculine to refer to doctor´s work and feminine for nurses.

But in her article Maria echoes that, in a pandemic like the one we are experiencing, the lack of a gender perspective that occurs not only in the field of health, but also in many others. This will have long-term consequences for women. As pointed out by a new study by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of California, San Diego, in comparison to previous economic crises and recessionary situations, which affected men’s employment more severely than women’s, the economic crisis and fall in employment that COVID 19 has generated has had a great impact on sectors with high rates of female employees. In addition, other measures taken during the crisis, such as the closure of schools and educational centers, have also had a great impact on work life balance for many individuals and are working mums are shouldering most of the childcare burden amid the coronavirus outbreak. This gender impact should also be analysed from an intersectional perspective. As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said “”What this is showing us is that the structural inequities for women and women of color—there are lower-paying jobs, there is a massive pay gap, they do more child care at home, they are more susceptible to domestic violence—this crisis is exacerbating all of them,” According to the study, despite the fact that men are better equipped for teleworking than women, during 2017 and 2018, men teleworked less than women. This has rendered women more equipped to do so; however, women have also seen their workload increase during this time, by assuming childcare and teaching tasks due to the closure of educational centers and childcare centers. For these women, the coronavirus pandemic has given new urgency to many of the challenges they have faced for a long time.. Others argue that the pandemic may contribute to a redistribution of care and domestic work but what this crisis confirms is that it is necessary to continue working on analyzing the factors which perpetuate gender roles.

In the same line, psychological impact on women will be long-lasting. According to the  survey  performed by the Kaiser Family Foundation a higher proportion of women worry about the negative consequences of the corona virus and take greater precautions than men. According to the data from this study, a higher proportion of women fear that they, or someone in their family, will be affected by the disease (68% vs. 56%, respectively) and show concern about losing income due to the closure of a workplace or the reduction of paid hours (50% vs. 42%, respectively).

Finally our colleague highlights the increased vulnerability of victims of gender violence (GBV) during COVID 19 confinement. The increase of GBV has already been verified by numerous studies (Fraser, 2020; Palermo and Peterman, 2011). Also UN Women has produced a brief highlighting emerging evidence of the impact of the recent global pandemic of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls, what they call “the shadow pandemia”.After conducting an exhaustive literature review, Amber Peterman, Alina Potts, Megan O’Donnell, Kelly, Thompson, Niyati Shah, Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, and Nicole van Gelder (Peterman et al 2020) have documented 9 pathways (direct and indirect) that link pandemics and gender violence through the effects of: “(1) economic insecurity and stress related to poverty, (2) quarantines and social isolation, (3) disasters and disturbances and instability related to conflicts, ( 4) exposure to exploitative relationships due to changing demographics, (5) reduced availability of health services and access to first responders, (6) inability of women to temporarily escape abusive partners, (7) specific sources of virus violence, ( 8) exposure to violence and coercion in response efforts, and (9) violence perpetrated against health workers. The increase in cases of domestic violence, for example in Spain, are alarming (La Vanguardia) and showcase the need for us to put mechanisms in place to assist and support the most vulnerable women. These mechanisms should consist of incorporating gender and intersectional approaches within public policies, thus allowing the consideration of all the social impacts of this crisis that may otherwise go unnoticed.

By María López Belloso, researcher at University of Deusto.

published this article (in Spanish) here.

Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

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