Coinciding with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that proliferated last summer, the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the BAME community furthered our awareness of the institutional racism within our society. Clearly, the belief that, since ‘viruses don’t discriminate’, coronavirus would be a social equaliser is unfounded and thus necessitates consideration of whether the effect of the pandemic is not only racialised but also gendered.
The gender discrimination of coronavirus works both ways. According to a study done by UCL, men are three times more likely to need admission to intensive care and 40% higher the odds of dying from COVID-19 than women. However, an assessment of the socio-economic impact of the virus is evidential of the gendered imbalances of power that persist within our society.
Termed the ‘shecession’, with more women in informal employment and sectors such as hospitality and retail (the areas most heavily affected by the lockdown measures), women are 1.8 times more likely to become unemployed than men. It is understandable, then, that a study carried out by the UN found 55% of women reporting a loss of income and 41% of women reporting lack of food, compared to only 34% and 30% for men, respectively. This is indicative of the entrenched gender biases within economic systems and the lack of provisions available to support women.
The coronavirus pandemic has also demonstrated that patriarchal stereotypes are still firmly rooted in our social and cultural value systems. With the elevated importance of the domestic sphere as a result of the ‘Stay at Home’ message, women have been forced to take on more domestic unpaid care work; before the pandemic, women dedicated an average of 3.2 hours more per day to unpaid care work than men and this has been exacerbated since the March lockdown (although not supported by official statistics, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia believes this number will have at least doubled since coronavirus began).
Although statistically striking, this also exemplifies societal assumptions that domestic work is inherent to a woman’s role, especially when we consider that, in general, both men and women have been at home during the lockdown and so both equally capable of carrying out such work. Unsurprisingly, 27% of women from the UN study compared to 10% of men stated that coronavirus had a key impact on mental health.
Such stereotypes were compounded by the UK Government in the past month with their ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’ advertisement which was forced to be withdrawn after being criticised for stereotyping women: it comprised four successive animations in which only women were depicted as ironing, cleaning and performing childcare. Despite the government saying that the advert did not reflect its view on women, it evidently representative of the sexist attitudes enmeshed within social consciousness which assumes that women inherently belong in the domestic sphere.
Unequivocally, coronavirus is sexist. Whilst this could be said for both men and women, it is confirmatory that the patriarchy persists at the disturbing social, economic and psychological detriment to women and provides evidence that the achievement of gender equality requires more than the establishment of a gender pay gap. More must be done to change the gendered stereotypes that are entrenched within society and culture.