Women are on the corona virus front lines as healthcare workers, primary caregivers and also migrant workers displaced by the containment policy, however policy responses often fail to consider how gender and epidemics interact.
Globally, women make up about 70 per cent of the health workforce and are primarily responsible for childcare, even more so now that schools have closed in many countries. Global travel restrictions mean many female migrant workers have been cut off from their jobs and incomes. Not recognizing how women’s roles create different exposures and needs, results in policies that don’t address the reality.
Recognizing the differential effects on men and women is a “fundamental step” in public health emergency responses. presently there is no gender analyses of the outbreak by global health institutions or governments in affected countries or in epidemic preparedness.
During West Africa’s 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, women were at higher risk of infection due to their caregiver roles, while being “less likely than men to have power in decision-making”. There were also reports of increased domestic violence, sexual violence and teen pregnancies (Lancet, 2020).
Our global health system frequently does not take gender into account across the full range of human health problems. Global Health 5050’s new 2020 report shows that women from low- and middle-income countries make up just 5 % of leaders at global health organizations, while more than 70 per cent of CEOs and health board chairs worldwide are men. This means that policies for women are not being decided by women.
Fewer than 4 in 10 health organizations dis aggregate data by sex in their campaigns and interventions. This is a lost opportunity for understanding the distribution of ill health, who is benefiting from interventions and who is being left behind.
Gender approaches should not be treated as a separate issue that only involves women, Gender means everybody. It doesn’t just apply to 50 per cent of the population. Gender analysis must become a “reflex” embedded in global health and emergency responses.