Which vaccine will arrive first: Covid-19 or inequality?

Traditionally, one shouldn’t start a story by revealing its end. I would, however, like to allow myself a license to answer the title question: which will come first, the vaccine for Covid-19 or for inequality? A PCR test isn’t necessary to realise that the first one will arrive earlier. Otherwise, we would have to walk around wearing masks until the end of our days. In fact, this pandemic has further accentuated the gender gap in science.

Our first indicator is the drop in scientific production. According to an analysis published by Vox EU, the percentage of women who published papers in the first 4 months of 2020 is similar to that of 2019 (around 20%). During the pandemic, this dropped to 12%. In this same vein, the Nature Index (a classification focused on research published in a selection of academic journals of natural sciences of the Nature group) tells us that we are weathering the same storm, but not in the same boat. The current crisis will have medium and long-term consequences for the career progression of female researchers. The quarantine has had the opposite effect that working from home might have promised. 

The differences in time devoted by women and men to care and domestic work increased during the lockdown. A questionnaire applied by the Women’s Unit of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation among 1,563 researchers on the impact of quarantine and lockdown shows us that almost 50% of women (compared to 20% of men) were solely in charge of housework, while 43.8% of women (versus 18.3% of men) assumed primary family caring responsibilities.

The pandemic has forced us to open the heretofore hidden space of the home in meetings and online conferences. This is the reality showed by the scientist Gretchen Goldman in her Twitter account who – after being interviewed by CNN from her living room – brought to light the usually unseen: “Just to be honest. #DíaDeUnaMamáCientífica” (#TheDayOfAScientificMom).

The H2020 SUPERA Project (Supporting the Promotion of Equality in Research and Academia) designed a survey on working conditions, use of academic time and academic performance. After being launched in June 2020 at the Complutense University of Madrid, the survey collected almost 1,600 responses and presented clear preliminary results. Gender roles in academic work identified before the pandemic have been exacerbated during the pandemic: women stated that they spend more time preparing classes and assisting students, while men dedicate themselves to writing and submitting their academic outcomes for publication.


Survey on academic working conditions, the perception of the use of academic time and academic performance during the Covid-19.

This has also been the pandemic of male doctors and female nurses, despite women being the majority in both medicine and nursing.


Source: Ministry of Equality of the Spanish Government, based on data from the Active Population Survey (EPA).

The expert voices starring in the media during the pandemic did not come from women either. The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London analysed 146,867 press articles covering the Covid-19 crisis, published between March 1 and July 31, 2020 in the media in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. For every mention of a female expert in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), 19 mentions were made of a male expert. For every mention of a female economist, there were 5 of men.

As I read some time ago from my colleague Pilar Kaltzada, “the first feminist strike of 2018 chose the slogan: ‘If we stop, the world stops.’ But when the world stopped, we had to run more and in all directions.”

Lorena Fernández Álvarez, Deusto University

This article originally appeared in Spanish in

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