No one can deny the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the entire world in a short space of time. The truth of the matter is; it seems like it is going to be a long walk before circumstances normalize. Reality has proven that COVID-19 could be a permanent part of our lives, something we have to embrace and accommodate. The negative impact of COVID-19 has been felt across the globe; from disrupted national economies to social life, the pandemic has left a scar in the lives of the people.
In as much as the governments are trying to adjust and curb further negative impact, the focus has been mainly centred on the economic aspects of society. It can be argued that the main reason behind the fight against COVID-19 by most countries was to reduce the fatality rate and to stop further damage to the economy. Besides, most COVID-19 reports have focused more on data journalism, where the aim was notifying the public of infected cases, recoveries and COVID-19 related deaths. There is a however a need to understand the effects of the pandemic, especially on women, who are the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society.
COVID-19 pandemic lockdown effects on women
1. Promotion of sex differentiated roles.
The lockdown measures that were meant to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus reinforced and promoted sex-differentiated roles, especially in traditional societies dominated by gender stereotypes. Most women had to carry the burden of taking care of the house (cleaning, cooking, washing, fetching firewood/water, taking care of the young ones, etc) while men had little or nothing to do. This affected most school girls who had to carry the burden of house chores and trying to cope with school work on the other end. Boys had the privilege of spending more time on books and studying compared to girls.
2. Reduced physical campaigns on gender equality
The pandemic seems to have put to a halt effective campaign efforts that were being made to eradicate gender-based inequalities. Lockdown measures prohibited and limited gatherings leading to the inability to conduct physical campaigns and educational seminars, which had a great impact on increasing awareness of gender inequalities and women empowerment. Limited access to online programs worsened the situation because only the elite could afford to buy the resources needed, especially in developing continents such as Africa and Asia.
3. Rise of women abuse
Women have been facing abuse in different ways during the lockdown periods. The pandemic mentally affected people and still is. The lockdown saw the closure of many small scale business industries. For many, it meant low and/or hardly any income source for family sustainability. The mental strain most breadwinners or family providers had to face resulted in psychologically triggered actions, one of them being gender-based violence. Most women had to endure abuse from their spouses during the pandemic. Spouses who used to spend many hours missing each other because of work suffered from the fate of overstaying with each other under a scarcity of basic family requirements such as food. This change resulted in a rise in domestic violence cases. Gender-based violence includes but not limited to sexual, physical, mental, and verbal abuse.
a) Physical abuse
Physical abuse refers to the physical act of beating someone. It is the act of doing bodily harm to someone. Bruises and red eyes became a constant reminder of inflicted harm. The pandemic, the lockdown measures, the business shutdowns mentally affected people, and families became susceptible to gender-based violence.
Figure 3: Gender-based violence
b) Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse is when a person forcefully sleeps with another without consent. Despite being married, a man can forcefully sleep with his wife, which the law accounts for as rape. Men still deeply seated in patriarchal social value act upon the mentality that women are possessions and objects of pleasure, and for a married woman to deny her husband conjugal rights is a taboo. The lockdown exposed most women, including children, to sexual abuse.
c) Verbal abuse
Verbal abuse refers to the use of words to degrade someone, look down on someone and make them feel less important. Hateful words are spoken to sorely destroy the esteem of someone as a way of belittling and making the victim a puppet. Verbal abuse is a way of controlling someone with words. A lot of women have been suffering silently during the lockdown and had to endure living with their abusers.
Basing on the account of real effects the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns are causing on women, I strongly recommend Governments and Civil Society Organizations to factor the needs of women in the implementation of new policies, to keep them from being the subjects of abuse.