What are the different types of problems women and girls face during pandemic?
While COVID-19 continues to takes toll on lives of people across 213 countries of the world, the current situation and future for women and girls are looking increasingly dreadful. As any other endemic crisis, the existing inequities and rise of new social problems is high during COVID-19. Women and girls facing systemic oppression for ages have been additionally disproportionately affected by the crisis.
As the world strive to sail through this unprecedented moments, it is imperative for feminists and experts to concisely put out different impacts women and girls are facing, and support world leaders and government to plan post-crisis measures to be equitable and responsive to all population.
Also read: Covid-19 and Feminism Part-1: How are women and girls disproportionately affected by the pandemic?)
While different groups of women face unique impacts in many levels, there are some unfortunate general impacts that women across the world are vulnerable to. Multiple levels of problems arise as a result of confined living under precarious conditions. Women are mostly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence, domestic abuse, mental health problems as well as virtual harassment. The article intends to articulately summarize the problems in the following points.
Violence against women:
Violence against women remains a dominating problem faced by women across the world. It is widely stated that women and girls are in high risk during the pandemic. Why? To begin with, few data from pre-corona times can give the picture of the intensity of violence faced by women during normal times.
The abovementioned points only provide the snapshots of problems, whereas violence against women is rampant all the time. The fact that pandemic magnifies such problem triple than normal times is evident through following data.
While the given data do help in giving snapshots of the problems, it is also important to take into account that data are widely under-reported in current times, available data mostly represent developed nations so situation of underdeveloped nations are not analyzed and therefore, the magnitude of the problem is greater than what is represented limitedly.
Several factors are leading to increase in violence against women at current times. Confinement to household with abusive partners, lack of access to services, shelter homes and information are the overarching reasons. Since the lockdown measure has been activated in most of the parts of world, women and girls are faced to live with risk of domestic violence and abuse. Women from indigenous groups, women of color and women with disabilities are some groups facing intersecting forms of impacts.
Women living in conflicted zones, refugee camps and migrants have higher risks for facing violence. The reports and stories from conflicted zones have mirrored that instability in social structures unleash the waves of men’s violence due to their lesser ability to deal with psychological, financial and social consequences of the crisis.
Some specific cases proving the increased violence are: the femicide committed by a man against his wife while in self-isolation in 28 March in UK, and the gang-rape of a migrant woman in her 40s in India after being quarantined alone in a school.
While both the cases signify the increased risk of violence during the epidemic, it is important to understand the stark differences in social systems in both places. In many developed nations like the UK, Europe and the US, victims might face problems due to conservational belief towards sexual health services like abortion or contraception. In the case of developing parts like India, the victims might face lack of access to proper health services, psychological counselling and treatment, and lack of justice because of legal weakness. The response measures to lockdown must also focus on solving the consequences to the problems faced by women and girls during the pandemic.
Mental health problems
Rise in mental health issues among all people regardless of gender is high due to the pandemic. In a recent KFF poll, nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus. Social distancing leads to isolation, whereas risk of infection may lead to stress and anxiety. Further, the closure of business and schools, loss of financial means is leading people to increased amount of stress and anxiety for carrying out daily living.
Among all these, for some women, the reasons for arousal of mental health issues do not get limited with just the spread of virus and financial distress. Women have to take a lot on their plates as the lockdown implicates everyone to stay-at-home. WHO has declared Gender to be a determinant of mental health and mental illness in 2000, which means that existing gender roles in society are one of the primary reasons for women to face mental health challenges.
Globally, women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work. The burden of unpaid household chores, including child caregiving increased due to 300 million children missing school globally, and having to work from home are much likely to enhance distress and anxiety. The ‘responsibility of women’ to do household chores becomes more stressful to women of places where their values and worth are measured on their house management ability. This becomes particularly distressing to women going through certain phases like menopause, pregnancy, childbirth or simply during menstruation. Women bodies are already vulnerable to unexpected health issues and lack of emotional support or burden of household obligations leads women to detrimental position in their mental health status.
Further, working women face equally higher risk of mental health issues. While women already face significant wage gap in ‘normal’ times across all the sectors and face six times higher risk of depression and anxiety, the disruption in work due to COVID-19 has led to more uncertainty in their works and further higher chances of mental illnesses. Many places are availing paid leaves and sick leaves during the time which has made it difficult for women to manage their work from home. The halt in business and means of income are particularly hard for single-mothers or female headed households. Women in senior positions and leadership have also their share of stress having to fight the stereotype of women handling the crisis and leading institutions.
The impact of sexual, emotional and physical abuse is another major reason for higher mental health issues. Along with physical abuse and violence in homes, psychological abuses are also widely prevalent. Each incident of physical, sexual or psychological violence at home follow multiple mental health impacts like Post Traumatic Stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks and depression. The challenges to access sexual and reproductive health services in such vulnerable times further perpetuates stress and anxiety, leading to shame and lower self-esteem and isolations.
Virtual dependency and online sharing has widely increased as the physical distancing continues to extend in many countries. More than 1.5 billion children and young people have been affected by school closures worldwide. Many are taking online classes and socializing. Along with increased online presence, the risk of online sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse has dreadfully increased. While social media has played positive role in building self-confidence and self-esteem to many young women and girls giving them a platform to express themselves, it has double the times created an unsafe space risking women’s dignity and privacy.
One of the key examples of this is the issue of ‘bois locker room’, a snapchat group in India with over 4K members sharing and commenting on young and minor girls photographs. The issue flamed up when a woman disguised as man joined the group and leaked the conversations. The conversations wildly objectified and sexualized girls’ body and planned on gang-raping the girls. The authority took the issue under investigation, while debates and controversies took place across all social media platform. Victim blaming is another rampant practice in the society that further targets women and girls who are already suffering limitations to be themselves just because of their sex.
Further, the lockdown due to COVID-19 has led many people rely virtually to connect to their partners. The personal information shared in privacy and trust with consent are also in high risk of being leaked and misused, putting women and girls more at risk of online harassment.