By Arcelia Martin
Before the pandemic, women were more likely to be in poverty, to be paid less and to do more unpaid work. The coronavirus will only worsen pre-existing social and economic inequities for women, according to a report published by the United Nations.
Researchers examined the pandemic’s potential to roll back the limited progress that has been made in gender equality in previous decades.
Women spend three times as many hours as men in unpaid care and domestic work, according to the U.N. report, a number that sure is to rise amid required home schooling and stay-at-home orders.
Women aged 25 to 34 globally, are 25% more likely than men to live in extreme poverty, the U.N. reports.
“The COVID-19 global crisis has made starkly visible the fact that the world’s formal economies and the maintenance of our daily lives are built on the invisible and unpaid labor of women and girls,” the report said.
According to Sara Diaz, associate professor of women and gender studies at Gonzaga University, women in the United States spend 5 hours a day doing care work in the home.
This care work includes childcare, laundry, dishes, or any housework that is unpaid but vital. This leads many women who work in the paid labor force, to work a second shift when they come home from their full or part-time jobs.
While the amount of unpaid care work men are doing is on the rise in the face of the pandemic, Diaz said, it’s still about half the amount that women do on average.
“There’s a really big increase in the amount of that labor that needs to be done and some studies have shown during this pandemic that women tend to be taking on the bulk of the homeschooling duties or even just wrangling kids to get them, you know to sit in front of the Zoom, while they’re having class and you know that takes a lot of work,” Diaz said.
As middle-class women work to manage their jobs, housework and balancing their partner’s and children’s schedules, it can create a difficult juggling act.
“This is just an extension of what we see during normal times,” Diaz said.
Government data obtained by the New York Times shows that one in three jobs that have been deemed essential during this pandemic – health care workers, cashiers at grocery stores, drugstore pharmacists – are held by women.
As Diaz continued to teach her courses online for the remainder of the spring semester, she said it was important to remember who composes the essential workforce.
“We talked quite a bit about the fact that a lot of our essential workers, because of labor force stratification, are women and people of color,” Diaz said. “When women, or people of color, or immigrants, and many are all three, women immigrants of color … because they’re essential workers, they’re also more likely to get infected.”
Diaz said that the pandemic has served as an illustration for structural issues that disproportionately affect women.
“It’s sort of tragically beautiful, but they’re really crystal clear in this moment.”
Some are looking toward past pandemics to see how gender equality was affected. In an article published by The Atlantic, entitled “The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism,” the Ebola outbreak was utilized as a vantage point for the potential results of the coronavirus on gender equity.
“Everybody’s income was affected by the Ebola outbreak in West African,” Julia Smith, a healthy-policy researcher at Simon Fraser University told the New York Times. “Men’s income returned to what they had made pre-outbreak faster than women’s income.”
Chandler Baird, owner of local food Instagram account Spokaneeats, has felt the effects of the pandemic on her business.
Her business operates on building and continuing the success of small businesses in the community through social media.
“Since most of those are closed or struggling, it’s been really difficult to, you know, create sponsorships,” Baird said. “Which is how I make my money.”
Local businesses pay the food blogger, who has over 30,000 Instagram followers, to promote their eatery or services. But since the pandemic, these businesses are financially struggling. Small businesses no longer have a budget for Baird’s work.
A lot of her work includes attending and promoting events, which have been all been cancelled for the summer.
While her social media has focused on options available for takeout, she has recently had another change in her life: a child.
Baird took a two-month maternity leave in January and February, right after her now 4-month-old baby was born. When she had events or meetings, Baird would hire a babysitter to look after her daughter as she worked.
But as things begin to open up in Spokane as Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s reopening plans unveils, she not sure what her work life will look like.
“Every time we get takeout she’s just been in the car so I don’t know how that’s gonna work when things open back up, but I think it’ll just be on a case by case basis,” Baird said.
Once her baby goes to sleep around 7 p.m., Baird uses the next few hours to get work done, a time that used be reserved for chores.
“In that time it’s also the time that I have to do laundry and clean the house and you know all those kinds [of things,]” Baird said. “Everything gets crammed in.”
Another concern of the pandemic’s effects on women is the rise of domestic violence. With stay-at-home orders, women and children are now spending more time at home, potentially in violent environments.
In the United States, an average of 20 people experiences intimate partner physical violence every minute, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Before the pandemic, one in four women experience severe intimate partner physical violence or intimate partner contact sexual violence. A number that experts fear is on the rise.
With many people sharing small spaces, dealing with financial burdens and children staying home in every state in the U.S., tensions are high.
To counteract the social and economic affects the pandemic may have on women, the UN proposed three priorities: ensuring women’s representation in COVID-19 response planning, addressing the paid and unpaid care economy and target women and girls in efforts to address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
If there had been social supports – implemented solutions – to these inequalities prior to the pandemic, maybe we wouldn’t be in such bad shape, Diaz said.
“We kind of got caught with our pants down in a lot of ways.”