The pandemic has had a skewed impact on genders. While men had a higher fatality rate, women faced harsher repercussions in other aspects

How the pandemic has affected men and women differently

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has adversely impacted society. While all of us may have been affected by it in one way or another, its effect on men and women have proved to be different. The public health crisis exacerbated the already existing gender inequalities by having a greater economic and social impact on women. 

Economic inequalities 
The COVID-19 pandemic brought economic inequalities between men and women to the forefront. Economic disruption that followed job losses impacted both men and women, but it disproportionately upended women’s lives. 

In absolute numbers, more men have lost jobs, simply because more men than women are employed in the labour force. Although job recovery rose, it was skewed in favour of men who saw a more steady recovery compared to women. 

Eight months after the lockdown was imposed, 13% fewer women were employed or looking for jobs than a year ago, compared to 2% fewer men. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), total employment in India for November 2020 was 2.4% lower than in November 2019. Among urban women, it was down by 22.83%. 

Given the closure of schools and overburdened healthcare systems, many women’s unpaid care and domestic loads significantly increased, which, in turn, made them less able to balance these responsibilities with paid work.

More time devoted to caregiving meant that more women were often compelled to leave the workforce and give up their career. The result was increased financial dependence on the male member, which further bolstered the patriarchal norms of households and marginalised women in the family.

Women are over-represented in industries that bore a harsher brunt of the pandemic, such as the hospitality and retail sector, leading to large-scale unemployment of women. A lot of small businesses – such as beauty parlours that were predominantly run by women – were forced to shut down overnight, jeopardising their financial security. 

Women also make up the majority of frontline healthcare workers and primary caregivers. As a result, they have been at the forefront of (and more susceptible to) the pandemic. Not only does their work put them under greater threat to their health, they are also paid less for doing so.

Related: Why are women missing from the boardroom?

Domestic violence
Being locked down indoors with abusive partners for extended periods caused a rise in domestic violence rates against women. Stress, alcohol consumption, and mounting financial difficulties are considered triggers for domestic violence in the home. As a result, the quarantine measures imposed around the world, coupled with the loss of livelihoods, saw an increase in these triggers and with a higher severity. 

Unsurprisingly, the lockdown brought to light the sharp spike in domestic violence cases, with more women reported to have fallen victim to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their male partners. In 2020, between 25 March and 31 May, 1477 complaints of domestic violence were reported. This 68-day period recorded more complaints than in the same period for the last 10 years. 

However, victims of domestic violence found some respite through government initiatives such as UP Police’s ‘Suppress corona, not your voice’ campaign, Odisha Police’s Phone-Up programme, Kerala State Commission for Women’s tele-counselling facility, Maharashtra government’s Akshara Centres, a Special Cell for Women and Children, and the #LockdownOnDomesticViolence and NCW’s WhatsApp-based helpline launched in April 2020 offered women multiple ways of reporting abuse. 

Related: Do you know what to do in times of domestic violence?

Psychological impact 
With extended isolation and uncertainty about the future, many people saw their anxiety levels going through the roof. Job loss and the additional pressure on women to look after the family made it even more difficult and challenging to cope. 

Though the COVID-19 mortality rate is higher for men, more women struggled emotionally. A study by CARE International found that women suffered three times more significant consequences on their mental health caused by loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression. It found that 27 percent of women reported anxiety, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, etc., across the world, as against the 10 percent reported by men.

The inherent bias and prejudices against women is reflected in the shame and guilt women are subjected to in these times. If previous pandemics are anything to go by, women are more likely to be shamed, shunned, or ostracized for contracting an infectious disease.

While everyone was fearful about contracting the virus, women also faced higher levels of guilt about inadvertently transmitting it to their family and potentially risking their lives. Many consider being infected by COVID-19 so shameful that they are scared to even seek treatment. This stigma has impacted the mental health of women, making them susceptible to severe distress. As a result, many organisations in India are working towards women’s mental well-being. Online platforms like Manastha, BetterLYF, YourDOST, Mfine, and Wysa provide counselling.

The inequalities highlighted by the pandemic may present opportunities to recognise and devise measures that can be taken to close – or at least minimise – the gender-based differences between men and women. More importantly, a shift in mindset is required.  Mindfulness during coronavirus: Read this 7 Practices that can make big change to your life.