COVID-19: The Perfect Chance to Reshape Gender Roles?

July 17, 2020

In Brief:
– Research has shown that pandemics and other disastrous events can compound and exacerbate existing inequalities for minorities, including women and other sexual and gender minorities.
– Up to 70% of workers in the health and social sectors are women. Given their increased presence among frontline workers, women are facing elevated risk during the pandemic.
– Nevertheless, the pandemic offers an opportunity to reshape gender roles in modern society. Work-from-home arrangements that have been adapted by businesses may allow for caregiving to become more evenly distributed

The global pandemic has shed light on several gender inequalities that exist in modern western societies. While more men are dying from COVID-19 than women, research has shown how pandemics can compound existing inequalities for girls, women, sexual and gender minorities, among other at-risk populations. Women make up 70% of workers in the health and social sectors across the world. As such, women are at a significantly higher risk of exposure to the virus. Moreover, in the health sector, there remains an 11% gender pay gap after accounting for occupation and working hours. It is also true that times of crisis lead to elevated stress between couples and amongst families. Research shows that stress associated with a disaster, like a pandemic, leads to higher rates of domestic violence and child abuse. Women generally have less access to social protection and bear a disproportionate burden in the informal economy.

Despite the disparate outcomes from the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic presents a substantial opportunity to reshape gender roles. Businesses have quickly adopted flexible work arrangements, which will allow many couples to redistribute the currently lopsided distribution of the division of labour in housework and childcare. The pandemic is also an opportunity for businesses to change the way society perceives gender by using public communications (like advertisements) to portray socially progressive gender roles. Beyond businesses, governments play a crucial role in achieving and maintaining socially equitable gender roles. Since women have an increased presence among essential workers, governments must address the specific needs of female essential-workers. Governments may wish to consider how the caregiving system can be restructured to afford women enhanced opportunities to participate in the labour force. By doing so, it may very well be possible for society to become more equitable as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.