By Frank Kamuntu
As the coronavirus COVID-19 snakes its way around the world, it has led to cancellation of events, shuttering offices, closure of Schools and suspending church gatherings though some health experts worry that the crisis could put women at a disproportionate risk, exacerbating gender, social and economic fault lines.
Though on international health boards gender issues are ignored forgetting that typical gender roles can “influence where men and women spend their time, and the infectious agents they come into contact with, as well as the nature of exposure, its frequency and its intensity,” declared the World Health Organization in a 2007 report. In other words: The roles that women have in society could place them squarely in the virus’s path.
Around the world, women make up a majority of health care workers, almost 70 percent according to some estimates, and most of them occupy nursing roles — on the front lines of efforts to combat and contain outbreaks of disease. In China’s Hubei Province, where the current coronavirus outbreak originated, about 90 percent of health care workers are women. In the U.S., that number is around 78 percent.
Women around the world are also more likely to take on the
burden of care at home, particularly if someone in their family is sick. And
because women still bear most of the responsibility of child-rearing, when
schools are suspended that risk may be compounded. Data from China suggests
that the disease is most easily spread between family members who are in
frequent contact with one another.
This was also the case during the numerous Ebola outbreaks across Africa from 1976 to 2014. Because women are traditionally the primary caregivers and are responsible for preparing bodies for burial, their vulnerability to the disease increased, according to a 2017 study. “The transmission rate was higher in households than in hospitals” and though there is no evidence of a biological gender gap when it comes to vulnerability to Ebola, “more cases were recorded among women than men” during the 2014 outbreak.
Pregnant women are faced with a whole different set of challenges — especially the stress of not knowing exactly how coronavirus might affect their child.
So far, the only information we have, based on preliminary research, is that the virus isn’t likely to be transmitted from a mother to her fetus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does caution that it has observed miscarriage and still birth in pregnant women infected with other coronaviruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Related Coronavirus (MERS), but again, it’s unclear why.
Economically speaking, outbreaks could have a disproportionately negative impact on women, who make up a large chunk of part-time and informal workers around the world for example in markets.Those kinds of jobs are also usually the first to get sliced in periods of economic uncertainty.