What Impact Has The Pandemic Had On Women's Rights In Developing Countries: Part 1
Gender inequality remains a prevalent issue for developing countries. It is estimated that the developing world is losing $23,620 per person (The World Bank, 2018) because of these huge gender disparities, making it clear that women are key to economic prosperity going forwards. Women’s rights mean giving them the basic freedom to live away from violence and discrimination and providing them with the essential opportunity to be educated and to earn an equal wage just like their male counterparts. Such improvements will not only lead to a higher economic status for women themselves, but will advance their households and consequently the communities they live in. However, the pandemic has slowed down many aspects of life and this includes the progression of women’s rights in the developing world.
This three part series will delve into the ways in which the pandemic has impacted women’s rights: social, legal, and financial.
‘Much of the gender inequality in developing countries is caused by the prevalence of cultural norms that aggravate favouritism towards males.’ (KCL, 2019) This creates a socially acceptable view of the maltreatment of women, and because of these pre-existing inequalities, the pandemic has exacerbated gender-based violence against women in developing countries.
The pandemic has led to lockdowns being enforced to prevent the spread of the virus, but this has also led to women being forced to stay at home with their abusers. With frustration stemming from the pandemic, uncertainty and anxiety has arisen in households, leading to a surge in domestic abuse and sexual violence. For every 6 months lockdown continues, 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur (UNFPA, 2020). Lockdowns and quarantine measures in developing countries mean women are unable to go and seek help from services, as they are stuck in isolation and such social spaces are closed.
Cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) have increased exponentially because of the pandemic. It is a widespread practice geographically concentrated in developing countries such as Egypt and Indonesia. FGM is the ‘deliberate cutting or removal of a female's external genitalia,’ this has no medical benefits and can lead to medical complications such as recurrent infections and infertility. A survivor and now anti-campaigner of FGM said that she was told by her own grandmother that undergoing the harmful procedure would make her ‘pure.’ (BBC , 2019) Norms such as this corrupt and obsessive ideology for women’s purity has created a society where it is deemed socially acceptable to cut women with blunt force. The pandemic has just amplified this, with 2 million more cases of FGM to happen over the next decade (UNFPA, 2020). FGM is typically carried out by family relatives and because of regulations which confine young girls to their homes, they are at an increased risk of this violence.
Pandemics in general obstruct women’s access to maternal healthcare, this was seen during the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016 where there was a 34% increase in the maternal mortality ratio (BMJ, 2016). Increased pressure on health services means women and their new-borns are at an increased risk of mortality, as doctors and nurses have other priorities. COVID-19 will undoubtedly be similar.
Societal expectations of women mean they are expected to have a caring and nurturing nature, this could be partly why women are far more likely to be front-liners and caregivers in hospitals. Women make up 70% of the health workforce globally (UN, 2020), putting them at an increased risk of contracting the virus. In developing countries especially, there is limited access to PPE, which further exposes the front-liner women to this deadly virus. Social norms lead to occupational sex-segregation and as a result, women are more likely to fall prey to the pandemic.