Lockdown will hit women harder due to gender bias

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
With law enforcement increasingly focusing its attention toward ensuring that South Africans abide by the stringent measures placed on our society during the lockdown, the writer says he wonders what effect this will have on gender-based violence.
With law enforcement increasingly focusing its attention toward ensuring that South Africans abide by the stringent measures placed on our society during the lockdown, the writer says he wonders what effect this will have on gender-based violence.
Image: Masixole Feni / GroundUp

The world has been hit by an unprecedented, brutal and tragic pandemic which has left bare the world's insufficiencies in dealing with inequality.

While thinking about the impact of this pandemic on a country such as ours, which is still contending with stark inequality long into democracy, I thought it would be a disservice for you and I not to ponder on the gendered aspect of Covid-19.

Because of the way our society is structured, I expect this pandemic to have a disproportionate impact on women.

It is women who carry water to homes in areas that do not have access to running water. It is women who look after the sick at our homes, while they ensure there is food in the home.

Women do not only represent the majority of workers in the health sector in the world, they do three times as much unpaid care work at home as men - this is according to UN Women.

With law enforcement increasingly focusing its attention toward ensuring that South Africans abide by the stringent measures placed on our society during this period, I cannot help but wonder what effect this will have on gender-based violence.

According to UN Women, the risk of family violence tends to increase as strategies such as self-isolation and quarantine are implemented. Additionally, the UN agency also states that resources are diverted away from services that women hugely need during such crisis periods, as seen during outbreaks of viral diseases such as ebola and zika.

Women in our country, and the world, live in constant danger, and this danger is at the risk of heightening as resources and personnel meant to safeguard women are redirected towards the pandemic, possibly leading to women being increasingly unable to fully access safety and support structures, which already do not come easy on a normal day, what more during such times?

The economic impact will also be gravely felt by women.

Women are found within the informal economy which will be hugely compromised as people stay home and some businesses pause operation. When not in the informal economy, women work in environments characterised by precarious working conditions, job insecurity and unfair pay.

These work environments usually neglect labour laws and have abhorrent labour practices that will leave them even more vulnerable as companies go on lockdown with the rest of the country.

And some doing so without paying workers, ignoring the labour directives given by the president. These are the very same people who run households, meaning entire homes will have their basic needs hugely compromised.

The 21-day lockdown that the president announced is a necessary and long-awaited move. However, I cannot help but think of the many citizens who are on the periphery of society.

Pregs Govender, former human rights commissioner and deputy chair of the SA Human Rights Commission, puts it perfectly when she says: "SA's success in 'flattening the curve' of this global pandemic rests on recognising political, civil, economic, social, and cultural human rights as interdependent, indivisible and universal."

These are the quandaries we are faced with when we fail as a country to proactively deal with socioeconomic issues. When pandemic hits, we hurryingly devise interim measures meant to deal with the crisis at hand.

It is quite scary to think of the possible impact on our country when countries with economies and infrastructures way ahead of us are struggling to contain and deal with this crisis.

Do not get me wrong, this crisis affects us all, but like all things, some will feel the effects harsher than others, because of their socioeconomic position and because of their gender.

This has me thinking that we cannot afford to have a gender-neutral approach to pandemics. Our society is gendered, our economy is gendered and so is the experience of daily living. We therefore need to have this in mind when we respond and it starts by being proactive, during "normal" times.

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