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COVID-19: deepening inequalities in a global pandemic

Read how Yamila Pita explains the multiple socio-economic impacts and gendered effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
© University of Basel
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, but also a socio-economic one (Kabeer et al., 2021) that does not affect all people equally.

While the full extent of the pandemic’s impact remains largely unknown and needs to be properly investigated in the future (Seck et al., 2021)1, it is safe to say that this global crisis has deepened existing inequalities. This is particularly evident in the case of gender inequalities, which of course must be understood in their intersections with other forms of inequality (along the lines of class, race, sexuality or ethnicity, to name but a few).

Talking about the gendered effects of the COVID-19 pandemic means talking about the disproportionate impact that this crisis has had (and continues to have) on women, particularly those belonging to systematically marginalised groups.

As Kabeer et al. (2021) point out, these effects are visible in multiple domains: for example, more women than men are employed in sectors hardest hit economically by the pandemic and by state-imposed lockdowns (such as retail or tourism-related activities). This has resulted in a higher number of job losses for women than for men in many countries.

Also, the group of so-called essential workers (those working, for example, in the health and service sectors) are more exposed to COVID infections. The vast majority of those in the frontline are women.

State-imposed lockdowns and stay-at-home orders had wide-ranging consequences: schools were closed, mobility was reduced, and health systems were overwhelmed. These measures to curb contagion implied an unprecedented increase in unpaid domestic and care work. These new burdens fell disproportionately on women, with consequences for women’s mental and emotional health (Kabeer et al., 2021; Seck et al., 2021).

It is also necessary to mention the increase in the frequency and severity of gender-based violence, due to the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic: the long mandatory confinements, the growing financial insecurity and the high levels of stress and psychological exhaustion, among other things (Kabeer et al., 2021).

It is thus clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only had devastating effects on the labour market, but has also negatively affected many other aspects of life. In addition, as we have already mentioned, this crisis does not affect all social groups and countries equally: as Seck et al. (2021) indicate, this global crisis has profound gender-differentiated consequences as well as differential impacts across regions.

At this point, it is therefore pertinent to ask ourselves about the policy responses of the states and the type of instruments available for crisis recovery. If one thing is clear, it is that this global pandemic has exposed the limits of the market-driven, neoliberal economic paradigm, which has systematically devastated health and social security systems around the world (OXFAM, 20142; Kabeer et al., 2021). In other words, the responsibility of states to combat the multiple persistent inequalities and to implement measures aimed at narrowing gender gaps has become evident.

Welfare-based emergency packages to mitigate the effects of the crisis in the short term are not sufficient, as they do not change the structural conditions that give rise to inequalities in the first place. In this sense, we agree with Kabeer et al. (2021) who argue that the crisis presents windows of opportunity for changes in policy-making. It is necessary to develop policies aimed at the comprehensive improvement of social well-being (which of course includes the care sector) in order to be better prepared to face future crises.

References

Irma Mooi-Reci and Barbara J. Risman (2021). “The Gendered Impacts of COVID-19: Lessons and Reflections”. Gender & Society, 35 (2), pp. 161-167.

Naila Kabeer, Shahra Razavi and Yana van der Meulen Rodgers (2021). “Feminist Economic Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Feminist Economics, 27 (1-2), pp. 1-29.

  1. Papa A. Seck, Jessamyn O. Encarnacion, Cecilia Tinonin and Sara Duerto-Valero (2021). “Gendered Impacts of COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific: Early Evidence on Deepening Socioeconomic Inequalities in Paid and Unpaid Work.” Feminist Economics, 27 (1-2), pp. 117-132. 
  2. OXFAM (2014). “Working for the Few. Political Capture and Economic Inequality.” Oxfam Briefing Paper 178. OXFAM, Oxford. 
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