In the midst of a colossal pandemic, issues of gender inequality have taken a backseat. However, it is imperative to inspect the imprint of such a large-scale global phenomenon on gender roles in society. Data has shown that while both men and women are equally susceptible to contracting COVID-19, the mortality rate of men is higher than that of women. There is ongoing research on whether the extra X chromosome gives women additional immunity. However, the more generally accepted theory is that men have compromised immunity since they tend to smoke and drink more due to traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity that promote such activities among men and demote them amongst women.
The rest of the writing would focus on more indirect outcomes of the pandemic. Notably, the majority of the global healthcare workers, as well as informal caregivers, are female. Contrastingly, the majority of the political policy-makers are male. This itself creates an imbalance in the functioning of society. To begin with, let’s peek into the primary household entity – family. With the lockdown in place, everybody gets to experience more family time. While this serves as a wholesome change, the negative aspect is that traditional gender roles get magnified in times of crisis.
Traditionally, women perform most of the domestic tasks – cooking, rearing children, keeping the house clean, etc, and this workload has increased manifold. Working women, who extensively rely on domestic help cannot do so anymore and now have to juggle their profession through work-from-home with their household tasks. Children, especially younger ones and ones who would otherwise be at school, pose extra responsibilities – it becomes the job of the mother to educate them at home, acquaint them with precautionary measures and ensure that they follow the required sanitary practices. The situation is graver for women who are frontline health workers such as doctors and nurses, women who are part of the law enforcement, women who belong to the lower socio-economic classes, etc who are obligated to be both socially responsible and a nurturing figure. In addition to the physical burden, they are also faced with the psychological strain of ensuring the safety of themselves and their families.
Moving on to more niche aspects, pregnant women are also subject to dire predicaments. The normally recommended regular checkups with the obstetrician are no more possible. With the severe restrictions on travel services, women having to go to the hospital either due to complications in the pregnancy, or even to give birth – becomes a Herculean task. Immunization of kids through vaccination has also been paused, causing additional distress to maternal figures. Moreover, this issue becomes worse with the possibility of increased pregnancy rates due to the lack of recreational activities and limited access to contraceptives.
Other unfavourable consequences of the situation include the possible rise in the rates of domestic and sexual violence, the mental stress caused by isolation with the abuser with no escape outlet and aggressive withdrawal behaviour from alcoholic men who now have no access to alcohol.
Overall, there is a need for policy-makers to compensate women for their efforts and secure more gender-friendly policies and restrictions. The larger necessity, however, is to completely do away with the gender-based division of societal roles and responsibilities in the long-term, so that in the event of another such crisis, men and women are able to share the burden equally.