COVID-19: The Gendered Ompacts of the Outbreak

  • Citation: Wenham, Clare, Julia Smith, and Rosemary Morgan. “COVID-19: The Gendered Impacts of the Outbreak.” The Lancet (British Edition) 395, no. 10227 (2020): 846–48.
    • Topics:
    • Transnational Issues
    • Keywords:
    • East Asia
    • COVID-19
    • gendered nature of the health workforce
    • gendered norms

Simultaneously, data from the State Council Information Office in China suggest that more than 90% of health-care workers in Hubei province are women, emphasising the gendered nature of the health workforce and the risk that predominantly female health workers incur.5 The closure of schools to control COVID-19 transmission in China, Hong Kong, Italy, South Korea, and beyond might have a differential effect on women, who provide most of the informal care within families, with the consequence of limiting their work and economic opportunities. During the 2014–16 west African outbreak of Ebola virus disease, gendered norms meant that women were more likely to be infected by the virus, given their predominant roles as caregivers within families and as front-line health-care workers.7 Women were less likely than men to have power in decision making around the outbreak, and their needs were largely unmet.8 For example, resources for reproductive and sexual health were diverted to the emergency response, contributing to a rise in maternal mortality in a region with one of the highest rates in the world.9 During the Zika virus outbreak, differences in power between men and women meant that women did not have autonomy over their sexual and reproductive lives,10 which was compounded by their inadequate access to health care and insufficient financial resources to travel to hospitals for check-ups for their children, despite women doing most of the community vector control activities.11 Given their front-line interaction with communities, it is concerning that women have not been fully incorporated into global health security surveillance, detection, and prevention mechanisms. Despite the WHO Executive Board recognising the need to include women in decision making for outbreak preparedness and response,12 there is inadequate women’s representation in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces, such as in the White House Coronavirus Task Force.13 Miguel Medina/Contributor/Getty Images If the response to disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 is to be effective and not reproduce or perpetuate gender and health inequities, it is important that gender norms, roles, and relations that influence women’s and men’s differential vulnerability to infection, exposure to pathogens, and treatment received, as well as how these may differ among different groups of women and men, are considered and addressed.

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