Women Are on the First Line of Defense Against COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone and everything. However, there are particular challenges for women in the current situation, at a global scale.

Photo: Perro Ferrer

I’m a mother and I’m currently teleworking, exercising the preventive measure of “social distancing” that’s proven helpful at “flattening the curve” of coronavirus contagion. But my kids, who attend public school, have also been sent home to do some “good old” distance learning. Balancing work-related demands and helping them follow up on their school material, while also keeping them entertained, has been a challenge, to say the least. After all, as Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network (a group that supports women in their workplaces), recently said: “women are typically the chief healthcare officer, the chief entertainment officer, the chief education officer in their homes.” 

And this is a small challenge compared to what so many women face as they’re affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we provide responses to the crisis, it’s key to keep their situation in mind. Heck, this needs to be at the center of responses because at home, and in hospitals and clinics, women are bearing the brunt of the immediate response.

At home, and in hospitals and clinics, women are bearing the brunt of the immediate response.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reveals that women use between 21 to 30 more hours of their time to care for the home, their children, and the elderly. Considering this pandemic can be lethal in older folks, we can presume who are the ones taking care of them so they don’t get sick as a result of COVID-19 (and obviously after). Same in the case of children. Women are also the majority of workers in facilities that house elderly people. In fact, although they’re only 13% of CEOs in this field, they compose 65% of the workforce. They’re in charge of the most vulnerable, be it in an unpaid or paid job. This also puts them at risk of getting the virus themselves. Who will take care of them then? 

Moreover, women make up most of the workers in the health sector. Healthcare workers are crucial at containing coronavirus, tending to the sick, and maintaining health systems operational. And not only they must deal with exhaustion, they’re the first in line to get infected.

This isolation must also be hell for women who are victims of domestic violence. 

According to the World Health Organization, 30% of women across the Americas have suffered physical or sexual violence from their partner, and 38% of women are killed by their partner or ex-partner. Can you imagine having to stay 24/7 with your aggressor? Going to work or getting involved in voluntary activities are usually ways for these women to cope with aggression. How do they escape the violence in a quarantine? 

This isolation must also be hell for women who are victims of domestic violence.

Similarly, the aftermath of this pandemic for the economies of the world will be appalling, but for women who mostly hold informal jobs in the economy, it’ll be devastating. The IMF just came out with an analysis of the virus’s impact on regional economic growth, and it’s quite concerning: a potential regional, if not global, recession, will hit women in the informal sector harder than other groups, with the additional caveat of not having access to health benefits for coronavirus infections. Medical paid leave in an informal job? Dream on: no work, no pay.

With so little known about coronavirus, I can imagine the anguish of pregnant women who fear infection.

Take all this and multiply it by a thousand. Such is the reality for Venezuelan women, who have to face a global pandemic in the context of a humanitarian crisis that affects their social and economic rights, and their right to live free of violence and discrimination. More so in a country with very unreliable data collection systems (on people infected) and a decaying health system.

We’re living tough times. We need to put women’s situation at the heart of the response efforts, this is key to being effective at fighting the pandemic.


* The views are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.