Women and COVID-19

Findings of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) socioeconomic survey on the impact of COVID-19 on Caribbean countries including The Bahamas support what governments worldwide have determined; that though the novel coronavirus does not discriminate, its economic, social and health impacts are different for men and women.

With most Bahamian households headed by women, education both virtually and face-to-face carried out predominantly by women and Bahamian women at increased risk of heart attack amidst a pandemic of higher joblessness and household burden, gender-responsive initiatives to guard against lasting societal damage are paramount.

In her address last month to a virtual ministerial roundtable convened by United Nations Women, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said,“We have seen that, in many pandemics, women never recover from the impact and their pain, and as a result, the effects become a lifetime experience.”

UN Women is working with governments and civil society partners to support gender-responsive fiscal stimulus packages, livelihood protection, rapid needs assessments of women on the ground, prevention of violence against women and promotion of equal sharing of care work.

The IDB’s survey revealed a vast gender disparity in pandemic-based unemployment in The Bahamas, with 58.5 percent of women stating they lost their jobs compared to 39.1 percent of men.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic devastation of Hurricane Dorian, women were already struggling with a high rate of unemployment which exceeded that of their male counterparts.

In its May 2019 Labour Force Survey, the Department of Statistics reported that young women aged 15-24 and core-aged women aged 25 to 54 were more likely to be unemployed than their male counterparts, notwithstanding higher academic qualifications.

Across all age groups, the unemployment rate for women stood at 9.9 percent and 9.2 percent for men.

With so many female breadwinners unemployed in a society that has seen a steady erosion in the extended family which traditionally provided support to single mothers, many children are perhaps more vulnerable to malnutrition and exploitation than at any other time in a modern Bahamas.

Of those surveyed by the IDB, 65.2 percent of women reported being responsible for homeschooling versus 25.8 percent of men.

But many of these women also bear a substantially disproportionate share of household responsibilities including caring for older adults, child rearing and household chores.

What this amounts to is women who are already burdened by the pressure of little to no income and minimal child and household support, now being called upon to perform the yeoman’s task of homeschooling, a task for which many are unprepared and underfunded.

This invariably poses additional difficulties for an educational system fraught with challenges, and for children who need the kind of scholastic support their mothers are either ill-equipped or too burnt out to adequately provide.

The weight of these responsibilities is made more onerous due to peculiar COVID-19-related restrictions implemented by businesses that prohibit young children from entering key establishments, thereby forcing parents — most often mothers without alternative caretaker options — to choose between accessing essential services and leaving their children in potentially unsafe situations to shop for food and supplies.

And unwilling to risk potential hospitalization or medical bills for which there is no money to pay, many mothers put off seeing their doctors for symptoms that could signal serious health conditions outside of COVID-19.

With nearly half of respondents eating less healthy food, 5.5 percent reporting going to bed hungry and over 11 percent reporting an increase in domestic violence since the beginning of the pandemic, more and more of the nation’s homes are becoming unstable, with the historic vulnerabilities of women and children in much greater need of safeguards.

Bahamian women serve as essential workers both in and outside the home, and it is therefore equally essential that targeted measures are actualized to enable the country’s women to productively emerge from the economic, social and psychological damage of COVID-19.

Our status as a nation is inextricably tied to the status of the nation’s women.

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