The pandemic has been a war on many fronts. Apart from the health crisis, the world has also seen a further deepening of various socio-economic and ecological crises.
A recent report in the medical journal Lancet, brings to light the extent to which these socio-economic inequalities have pervaded gender inequality and threatened the wellbeing of women, young girls and people of diverse gender identities.
During the pandemic, violence against women in the form of domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, and increased burden of unpaid carework have all escalated unchecked.
The paper is especially significant considering it has been signed by the heads of WHO (World Health Organization), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), UNWomen, UNAIDS.
The Ones Who Go Unseen
The commentary co-authored by Gita Sen, a distinguished scholar of feminism at the Public Health Foundation of India, also points to the side lining of other essential healthcare and social welfare services, while the fight against the COVID pandemic is prioritised.
The diversification of funds and infrastructure, for instance, led to a set back in sexual and reproductive health services.
Efforts to elevate the communities of people affected by HIV, too, seem to have been undone with patients falling back to being discriminated against says the report.
The impact on the economy too has especially hit women harder. Those in the unorganised sector, particularly those belonging to already marginalised communities have had to bear the brunt of increased poverty, racial discrimination, harmful gender norms in these times.
Making the Change
The authors of the commentary are, however, hopeful for the future, saying, "the pandemic has catalysed a need for concrete action on gender inequality."
"With commitments by governments to strengthen health systems and the health workforce, and to enhance the quality of care and self-managed care, there are opportunities to learn from previous efforts to address gender inequalities."Authors of the Lancet report
They also emphasise on the need to focus on gender equality while formulating pandemic responses and general healthcare services.
For example, gender-balanced community health worker teams can achieve increased service coverage.
Another vital measure highlighted in the commentary to help tackle gender power dynamics in the different strata in society, is group-based education interventions.
The commentary also lists the different ways in which the United Nations (UN) with other world bodies plan on closing the gap in this disparity using their 'collective influence, access, and resource.'
They hope to do this by,
Increasing gender expertise in health specialities at senior, institutional levels.
Obtaining better data that gives visibility to the various nuances of gender inequalities.
According to the report, only 48% and 36% of 199 countries reported sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in between 2020-April 2021.
Involving civil societies and private organisations–that are mitigating gender violence, abuse, and the disruption of essential services during the pandemic–in decision-making of institutional governance bodies.
Tackling the structural determinants of gender inequality, including political and economic systems, and the intersection with other inequalities by encouraging cross movement activism.