It has been said that the world will not be the same after the coronavirus (COVID-19). And it is true. Everything we know is changing like never before, but we can still choose how to direct and achieve these changes. In health emergencies such as this one - sparked by the COVID-19 outbreak that is now spread across 168 countries - pre-existing inequalities are further accentuated, with gender inequalities showing up accross in different areas.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 70% of the social health personnel in the world is female. Therefore, they are on the first line of response to this emergency, which means they assume greater physical, economic, emotional, labor and care costs, along with a higher risk of infection.
However, this scenario is also true for other kinds of care that, since before the pandemic, were already assumed by women, largely without remuneration. According to the UNDP Human Development Index, more than 75% of the time dedicated to the home, which includes care work, usually falls on women. Women work more than men, because they carry out invisible tasks such as unpaid care activities. This means that women are more likely to be affected in this crisis because of the schools being closed or because they must care for sick people.
In fact, in these days of telecommuting - a modality that is being experimented in many parts of the world to stop the outbreak - women are the ones having to overcome greater difficulties to fulfill their paid work commitments and the caregiving roles that have historically been imposed on them.
To make matters worse, according to UN Women, this emergency is increasing the risks of violence against women and girls. Tensions in the home are exacerbated and, with the limitations to movement, their possibilities to flee and find help are restricted. Abuse and control in a space with no way out, where the victim lives with their aggressor.
So, who takes care of those who take care of us? That is a question that is making us think during these days.
In Peru, where the government has decreed social isolation to face the pandemic, women already dedicated 23 hours more than men to unpaid work. This includes both housework and the care of children, senior citizens persons, people with disabilities and sick family members.
UNDP Peru considers that it is important to confront gender-based inequality, particularly given the results of the Gender Inequality Index (GDI) which offers an insight into these disparities. For example, in Peru, 82.6% of men participate in the labor market, whilst only 65% of women do, representing a gap of more than 15%.
Now that the current social isolation and remote working situation has removed the physical barriers between paid and unpaid work, this supposes that women end up assuming a much greater workload. This is a burden that, as the researcher Marcela Huaita argues, will cause a reduction in their income, since “they will have a longer daily workday; and who will be more exposed when caring for family members affected by COVID-19.”
Taking all of this into consideration, it is essential to remember that, as UNDP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Luis Felipe López-Calva, has pointed out, “diseases of course discriminate, and the most vulnerable among us may be those who are most at risk in this situation. It's not just age that makes people more vulnerable, but also their socioeconomic situation.”
This is an opportunity to emphasize that the care system, which includes a national policy, represents the Peruvian Government’s commitment for 2020. We must ensure that it is implemented and, above all, that the gender dimension is a central and crosscutting issue in all responses. This must ensure that women are involved in all phases and in national and local decision-making, taking into consideration the different impacts that this crisis is having on them, and, above all, rethinking of the biases and discriminatory social norms that are so ingrained in our societies and, that in these days of isolation, are so visible to us. This is an unprecedented opportunity to reverse, deconstruct and transform these persistent inequalities.
As the analyst Ignacio Escobar said in the Washington Post, "the coronavirus is going to be for telecommuting what the First World War was for the inclusion of women into the labor market.” But this telecommuting should not increase the gaps between men and women. On the contrary, looking at this pandemic from a gender perspective is an obligatory step towards choosing what we want once this happens, in order to transform ourselves as a society and heal our health and social matters.