The world is a new and confusing place for many of us. A rollercoaster of changes to work, school and care schedules, getting to grips with online meetings and digital lessons, fear for our friends, families and neighbours.
It will come as no surprise to any woman reading this that when crises like the one we are facing right now hit, women are disproportionately affected. More likely to be in precarious and low-paid work, more likely to shoulder additional caring responsibilities, and more likely to be the one worrying about food shopping, dentist trips, and prescriptions.
Today Engender has released a paper exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on women, and setting out what must be done in order not to lose the gains we have made towards equality. Women’s equality advocates often find ourselves talking about the same structural and systemic issues again and again (it’s almost like we live in a society where men overwhelmingly hold the power, eh?) and so too with this briefing. And that’s because old problems don’t go away when new ones come along. But new problems, and hasty responses to them, can further entrench injustices and inequalities. It is therefore vital that we integrate gender into any responses to this latest crisis.
Social security, employment, social care, health, and violence against women, are all areas of women’s inequality which will see additional challenges due to coronavirus, and which must be taken into account in the responses of national and local government. Our report makes several recommendations for practical solutions to uphold women’s rights and work towards equality during this period of uncertainty, as well as calling for creativity in finding ways to change systems to enable women’s protection and wellbeing.
In the briefing you will also find reasons for (measured) optimism. While it can’t neutralise the grief and fear we are all feeling, there are opportunities for this crisis management to embed measures which make work, care, and community better for all. Employers realising that home working isn’t that hard, universities forced to look beyond a letter on a page during admissions, and huge investment in our health service. Just a few weeks ago, new migration rules divided people into ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ workers. Now much is made, rightly so, of the crossover between ‘unskilled workers’ and those now designated as ‘key workers’, indicating a new awareness of the importance of women’s undervalued and unseen work.
This is a situation which is moving incredibly fast, with new science, guidelines and announcements appearing day by day. One thing is constant though; the need to include women’s equality at the heart of our response.
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