By Sitong Hui, IV Form
What impact has the pandemic had on women’s rights in the developing world?
Throughout human history, movements advocating equal rights between men and women have made up humanities. Women who seek independence and equality have countless devotions on this arduous journey. From Africa to America, abolishing slavery, winning suffrage, and gaining political power are main aspects of female rights. While the feminist movements around the world have made tremendous progress in the past few decades, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges and resulted in major drawbacks to women’s status in many parts of the world.
The essay is aimed to provide information and analysis on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s rights in developing countries. It also explains some exemplary methods certain countries are using to soothe the situation faced by women. The essay will outline three major threats to women with detailed supporting evidence, and give out a final conclusion that incorporates a short analysis of prospective development.
COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Women’s Rights
● Women’s Economic Rights in the Asymmetric Unemployment Shock
One of the most immediate impacts on women brought by the pandemic is the economic disadvantage. According to data released by the European Parliament (2021), about 84% of working women are facing the threat of being unemployed. The recession following the virus outbreak has caused considerable unemployment in many countries, but this effect was largely asymmetric across genders.
Empirical evidence suggests that women were more severely affected than men in terms of employment opportunities. In a survey provided by Pew Research Center (Kochhar and Bennett, 2021), it is shown that between February 2020 to February 2021, the employment rate for men dropped to 67.1%, while that for women dropped from to 55.9%, 12 percentage points lower than men’s employment rate. This was particularly true in developing countries. In India, the COVID-hit unemployment high was 17% for women while 6% for men. The real situation can be even worse due to the significantly lower labor participation rate across genders, 11% for women and 71% for men (Rajagopalan, 2020).
The imbalance of the shock was mostly due to the unequal gender division of labor that is still pervasive in almost all countries of the world. Under such circumstances, quarantines and bankruptcies have impacted women much more severely than men, as they were forced to abandon their jobs so that they can squeeze more time for domestic duties in their households. Even prior to the quarantine period, while men spent 1.7 hours doing unpaid household work, women spent nearly three times as much as men’s time on performing these non-reciprocated tasks (IMFBlog, 2021). This situation was certainly intensified when family burdens increased due to the closure of daycare centers, schools, and catering services. Another potential reason is that the damage was unevenly distributed across different industries, and those that were occupied by more women were hit more severely, resulting in a larger amount of unemployment for female workers. In a report issued by UN Women (2020), 40% of the employed women work in the vulnerable sectors including tourism, retail, childcare, and foodservice, compared to only 36% of men.
In short, women were more likely to work in the industries that were affected more severely, so they faced a higher risk of losing their jobs during the pandemic. Meanwhile, women were expected to fulfill family responsibilities more than men did. The two factors combined further worsened women’s opportunities in the job market during the pandemic.
● Women’s Rights to Receive Education
Women also faced the threat of losing their access to education opportunities during the pandemic. The expansion of the gender education gap has serious consequences for women, including reductions in future earnings, an increase in teen pregnancy, and child marriage. In many developing countries, women are obligated to stay in their domestic circle, as mentioned in the previous section. Nowadays, girls still face a much higher drop-out rate than boys do.
The pandemic further worsened the situation when education facilities were closed. Economic pressure in the COVID-19 situation has forced more than 11 million girls around the world, mainly in developing countries, to leave school by the end of the coronavirus crisis. In India, Peru, and Vietnam, COVID-19 has seriously hampered the opportunities for girls to receive education when their families needed additional help on recovering from the pandemic (University of Oxford, 2021).
The lower-income that women are likely to receive in the future isn’t the only detrimental consequence of unequal education opportunities. The situation may also result in an increase in teen pregnancy and early marriage. In many developing countries, most ubiquitously in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia, 20% to 50% of women marry by the age of 18, and 40% to 70% marry at the age of 20 in exchange of a bribe price received by the girls’ families. A report by UNICEF (2021) states that, with the closure of schools and distancing protocols, 10 million additional girls in developing countries are at risk of child marriage. Meanwhile, child marriages would increase the risks of teen pregnancy. Without accessible healthcare and social services, girls suffer from maternal complications and mortality (VOXEU, 2021).
Fortunately, many governments have realized the severity of the gender education gap and have taken necessary measures accordingly. The Brazilian government (OMFIF, 2021), for example, started a special program to provide poverty-stricken girls’ families with compensation to alleviate the inequality.
● Domestic Violence
The most abysmal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in developing countries is domestic violence against them. Before the pandemic outbreak, every one in three women around the world was experiencing violence from their intimate partners. This gender-based violence, including physical, sexual, and emotional ones, intensified during the epidemic recession (UN Women, 2021).
In many developing nations that value patriarchy in their traditional cultures, women are believed to be inferior to men, and thus they constantly live under the control of their male counterparts. This leads to the unequal gender role in society: men are those who earn money outside while women are those who take care of the domestic environment for the elderly and the children. Under such a system, women are highly dependent on their husbands’ income from the workplace to sustain themselves. With no opportunity to earn money for themselves, it is very hard for those women to resist domestic violence from their husbands. The situations in many households were intensified, which further complicated the issue with the COVID-19 pandemic. Confinement and quarantine make women isolated from the outer environment and force them to spend most of their time at home with their abusive partners. With a limited supply of public resources during the pandemic, healthcare and community services are no longer available to be shelters for women being abused, and they might also find difficulty reporting violence because of the shutting of helplines.
In countries like Indonesia, it is reported that the rate of family violence has alarmingly increased since the pandemic outbreak. In June 2020, over 30% of the respondents indicated that they have experienced gender-based violence from their husbands and/or other male family members. The same situation happened in India, too. According to Pandit research, due to social restrictions and the patriarchal stance, women, especially those with illnesses like HIV and AIDS, have endured increasing violence from their intimate partners. During April and May, according to Indian National Bureau, 47.2% of the reported cases are related to domestic violence (UNAIDS, 2021). The complications of such violence do not only cause physical pain but also result in women’s mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Domestic violence will also affect children who have seen their mothers being abused and the future generation might reveal higher violence propensity and a higher chance of being diagnosed with depression and other psychological disorders.
At this moment, countries are joining together to help solve the crisis faced by women. In the Asian and Pacific regions, volunteers are gathered to bring psychosocial counseling and shelters for women, especially those who have other physical ailments.
The COVID-19 virus is a tragedy to our entire human race, but the impact is more devastating for women. Compared to their male counterparts, women face a higher chance of losing jobs and being unemployed, more constrained educational opportunities, and a significantly greater danger of suffering from domestic violence from intimate partners during the quarantine.
Although this essay mainly focuses on the difficult situations faced by women in developing countries, it is worth noting that the difficulty confronted by women is, as a matter of fact, the same around the globe. In an era of comprehensive globalization, these barriers to achieving equality for humankind can only be removed through cooperation between countries. With increased awareness of human rights, the consensus and effort among underdeveloped, developing, and developed countries will one day promote the female rights movements to a new height and we will see a world where men and women are truly equal.
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- Kochhar, R. & Bennett, J. (2021). U.S. labor market inches back from the COVID-19 shock, but recovery is far from complete. Pew Research Centre.
- Rajagopalan, S. (2020). Economic impact of coronavirus could be painfully long for Indian women. Bloomberg Opinion.
- UN Women. (2020). COVID-19 and its economic toll on women: the story behind the numbers.
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- UNAIDS. (2021). Tackling gender inequalities and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic in Asia and the Pacific.
Sitong Hui is a IV Form boarding student from China. She has a passion for economics and psychology.