Beyond Health: Gender and COVID-19

Women on the front lines of public health. Whether in hospitals, community clinics or in the home – women are on the front lines of caring for the victims of this pandemic. Yet male-dominated health system decision-making structures often deny them voice, information or the support they need to protect themselves – putting us all at risk.

Extra health dangers for women and girls. In addition to the life-threatening dangers of the virus itself, total focus on COVID-19 threatens other vital health services for women, including testing for STDs, access to contraception, safe pre- and post-natal care. 

Domestic violence. The enormous social disruptions caused by COVID-19, including lockdowns, school closures and the return of millions of mostly-male migrant laborers, can lead to increased domestic violence. Rising poverty can create strong incentives for child marriage – as seen in many previous crises . 

Strengthening Women’s collective voice. The most important and immediate step to mitigate this double disaster is to invest in women’s grassroots associations. As the head of the International Women’s Health Coalition Françoise Girard has written, “Only women’s organizations focused on consciousness-raising, coalition-building, and advocacy can bring the kind of systemic change that women the world over need. The philanthropic community’s preoccupation with impact and the short-term projects that deliver measurable outcomes can distract us from what really works.”

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a men’s issue, not a women’s issue that a few good men help out with…. We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women… Men have a special responsibility to hold themselves and other men accountable.”    

Jackson Katz, Post Courier

As bell hooks has written, feminism is for everybody – it is the recognition that gender inequality is no accident – it is the consequence of an unjust system that must be transformed. Men in authority can work with women’s groups to establish zero tolerance for gender-based violence including child marriage, and establish community mechanisms to enforce it.