If you are like me, you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how COVID-19 will affect you and well, everyone, over the next few weeks, months and even years. The situation is changing rapidly, and we are inundated by a constant flow of information – some of it helpful and much of it… not so much. Because my job is to support all of you so we can achieve gender equality, I’ve also been spending a lot of my energy paying attention to how this pandemic is impacting the lives of girls and women specifically. No surprise here – not only does it affect girls and women differently, but the impacts of our response to this pandemic is affecting girls and women negatively.

So how do we, as a global community, make sense of it all and come together to do something about it?

Let’s start with making sense of it! How, exactly, are girls and women affected? Here are a few keys areas I’ve found:

  • Women are more likely to be frontline healthcare workers and caregivers. Nurses, nurse aids, teachers, child care workers, aged-care workers and cleaners are mostly women, are therefore putting themselves and their families at risk while working to take care of those who are sick and suffering. According to an article in The Interpreter, 67% of the global health workforce is female. 
  • Women’s jobs are being impacted by the economy at higher rates. The social distancing, shelter in place, and shutting down of major economies around the world can also affect women more because of the industries affected. From casual workers like retail and personal services (think of your hairdresser or favorite nail salon), to migrant workers and hospitality focused industries – women make up more of that workforce.

    And, according to The Atlantic, “School closures and household isolation are moving the work of caring for children from the paid economy—nurseries, schools, babysitters—to the unpaid one. The coronavirus smashes up the bargain that so many dual-earner couples have made in the developed world: We can both work, because someone else is looking after our children. Instead, couples will have to decide which one of them takes the hit.” When most women make less than men, guess who typically takes this one? You already know the answer.

    And then as we think about the schools and universities – the ones that you all have been sent home from – in addition to the teachers and professors, women are bearing the impact of closing these institutions. From an article in the Broad Agenda, 57.9% of university workers (particularly in non-management, professional, clerical and community service roles); 72% of those working in schools, and a whopping 95.6% of childcare workers are women.
  • Women’s safety is at risk. When women are separated from their communities, friends and coworkers in self-isolation or quarantine, they are also vulnerable to domestic violence. This “silent epidemic” as The Interpreter calls it, is an indirect impact of coronavirus in stressed and at-risk households. Not all homes are safe.

    Women are exposed to violence risk outside of their homes during this pandemic as well. From SD Direct, in addition to domestic violence, rates of violence against healthcare workers, racial and sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of migrant domestic workers, and even sexual exploitation and violence by state officials and armed guards have already been seen as rising due to the pandemic. Women and girls are already vulnerable to intimate partner violence in humanitarian settings, and the fear, tension and stress related to the COVID-19 outbreak will only intensify the risks they face in affected communities.

    As we begin, and continue, to watch the economy be impacted by the response to coronavirus, this economic downturn also feeds the increased risk to women in vulnerable relationships. Economic stressors are a top contributor to domestic violence, but the economic impacts can also keep folks trapped in abusive relationships if their work options that helped them have the independence to leave, are limited, according to an interview with Allison Randall at the National Network to End Domestic Violence on HuffPost.
  • Women are not making the decisions when it comes to policy and response. The truth is the decision-making globally is probably mostly men. The U.S. President’s Coronavirus Taskforce is 91% male – only 2 out the 22 members are female. The Global Health 50/50 Report from 2019 finds that 72% of executive heads in global health are men (even when the workforce leans so heavily female… ugh). According to Think Global Media, equity issues are only meaningfully integrated into emergency responses when women and marginalized groups are able to participate in decision-making. We know that when women and other groups aren’t at the decision-making table, their unique challenges aren’t taken into account when policy, aid packages and response decisions are made.

I’m all about action. I know you all are too. So what in the world do we do?

  • We need to deal with the mental health implications of social isolation, health anxiety and economic fears now. Mental health itself isn’t just a women’s issue, but when you look at the anxiety we all share around coping with the “new normal” and you compound that with all the ways the coronavirus is impacting women additionally, you can see a recipe for a mental health crisis on top of a global health and economic one. In an article in the New Yorker, this compounding can be relatable to P.T.S.D. The intersection of multiple challenges during the COVID-19 crisis—to health, employment, home, and access to resources—will produce an extreme confluence of circumstances that significantly increases the risk of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.
  • So what do we do? First, feel your feelings. Are your graduation, prom, Club events and other activities in jeopardy of being postponed, if not cancelled? Dr. Lisa Damour, an expert adolescent psychologist, best-selling author and monthly New York Times columnist, told UNICEF, the best way to deal with this disappointment is to let yourself feel it. “When it comes to having a painful feeling, the only way out is through. Go ahead and be sad, and if you can let yourself be sad, you’ll start to feel better faster.” 

    If you are really struggling right now, reach out for help. One of my favorite resources here in the U.S. (and Canada and UK) is Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741741 (U.S.). Also check out NAMI’s resources for dealing with the mental weight of coronavirus for more ideas.
  • Donate blood. Hospitals are running critically low with isolation and high demand.
  • Support your local women’s shelters with in kind and financial donations.
  • Support local businesses by shopping online, ordering delivery or takeout meals, or buying gift cards now for when they reopen.
  • Reach out to your family members, especially those living alone – a video or regular phone call can go a long way to making you both feel better!
  • Reach out to your government officials and ask for women and girls’ specific needs to be addressed in our response policies around the world. (aka Advocacy!) – your advocacy has never mattered more!
  • And of course, stay home 😊. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay sane!

I will leave you with a positive message I found that made me feel just a little bit better about this whole thing. From the New Yorker’s Robin Wright: “Loneliness is an experience we don’t choose. It’s always painful,” Ami Rokach told him. “When we finish a period of isolation and come out of this, I don’t think society will change. We are slow learners as a species. But we will come out of it and say, ‘Wow, I did all kinds of good stuff.’ Being together may strengthen our interpersonal bonds by illustrating that human connection can help protect our health and save our sanity.”

With all that’s going on right now, let’s find ways to keep doing good stuff.

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