Pandemics and crises amplify injustice and weaken equality

Now that we’re starting to see what we hope is the end of the pandemic, it’s clear that it has affected us differently. Generally, it seems that those who were already disadvantaged, poor or vulnerable have suffered most – from the disease itself but also, regrettably, from the measures taken to combat it. Many of the inequalities that existed prior to 2020 have been amplified over the past two years.

In short, the world has become less just, less egalitarian and less gender equal.

This is as true nationally as it is internationally. Recently the Swedish Gender Equality Agency submitted a compilation of the latest research to the government: Hur har covid-19-pandemin påverkat den ekonomiska jämställdheten? (How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected economic equity?)

Adverse effect

The Agency writes in its conclusion that “the pandemic has had an adverse effect on economic equity. Women have lost income to a greater extent than men, and more women than men have had to work harder under more exacting labour conditions.”

One reason for this is that women are more likely to have jobs that require their physical presence, have greater exposure to the pandemic and are heavily over-represented in the caring professions. More women have also lost their jobs and thus their ability to earn a living. The gender employment gap has widened and pay levels have dropped more for women than for men since March 2020. A review showed that it was the lowest paid women who subsequently suffered the severest losses of income. Worst hit are immigrant women.

At the same time, the Agency finds that more men than women benefited from the state support provided to companies. The relative percentages are striking: of the  600,000 individuals granted support for short-time work, around 37 per cent are women.

Taking it seriously

All in all, the Agency argues that the equality perspective has not been taken enough into account in the country’s crisis management and that this is something that society must take seriously in its plans for the handling of future crises. That such crises cause hardship, suffering and privation is only too obvious. But we cannot accept that serious crises aggravate existing injustices so that the most disadvantaged are pushed into a more profound deprivation. A strong, healthy society must be able to organise its crisis management in such a way that the burdens are distributed more evenly and do not hit vulnerable populations disproportionately.

Looking around the world, these trends are even stronger elsewhere. One of the findings included in a report to the EU was that women have been forced back into the home due to school closures. Women have also shouldered much more of the responsibility for the elderly and other vulnerable people whom society is unable to help on account of the pressure placed on formal health and social care by the pandemic.

Women in poorer countries

Hardest hit are women in the poorest countries. The pandemic per se, lockdowns and other measures have reduced access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, to schooling and education, and to sources of income – all this hit women harder than men. There are also reports on higher rates of men’s violence against women in domestic environments, child marriage and teenage pregnancies.

The Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, is running a project that looks specifically at the gender consequences of the pandemic – The Covid-19 Gender and Development Initiative. Collected here are several very interesting studies and reports. The project notes in opening that women were already lagging behind men on numerous important criteria before 2020 and that the pandemic and the resulting depressed economic growth have exacerbated these gender differences. The gender perspective of the pandemic has also been addressed by UN Secretary General António Guterres. As you might know, one of the more central pillars of the UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals under its Agenda 2030 programme is gender equality. It’s frustrating to see how the world is moving away from this goal instead of towards it. I have written before that the pandemic has made Agenda 2030 all the more vital and relevant.

Dare to face

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, it is this reality that we must dare to face – and try to redress. This is something that we work with at KI, and that we draw attention to in different ways in our education and research activities. And there will be more – such as a new network to enhance the qualification prospects of female researchers and teachers.

In these most difficult of times, we also need to see how women are impacted, directly and indirectly, by war, conflict and worsening political tensions in our geopolitical neighbourhood.

This year’s 8 March gives us many reasons to reflect upon the state of the world and to bolster our efforts to improve it.


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