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      The shadow pandemic: Inequitable gendered impacts of COVID‐19 in South Africa

        1 , , 1
      Gender, Work, and Organization
      John Wiley and Sons Inc.
      COVID‐19, gendered, inequitable, South Africa

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          On March 11, 2020, the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (SARS‐CoV‐2) Disease, or COVID‐19, was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). As its effects roll through societies and economies across the globe, women are expected to bear the heaviest impact. Unfortunately, despite gender‐focused reporting on the consequences of the COVID‐19 crisis, few government policies and public health efforts have explicitly addressed the gendered impacts of the pandemic. This academic review paper presents literature, from both academic and media sources, on the early effects of the COVID‐19 crisis on women, specifically within the South African context. Preliminary research and reporting of the effects of COVID‐19 on the South African population indicate that inequitable gendered practices negatively impact women in the general economy, the workplace, and the home. These settings are discussed in this article, along with recommendations to ameliorate the lived experiences of South African women.

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          COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak

          Policies and public health efforts have not addressed the gendered impacts of disease outbreaks. 1 The response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) appears no different. We are not aware of any gender analysis of the outbreak by global health institutions or governments in affected countries or in preparedness phases. Recognising the extent to which disease outbreaks affect women and men differently is a fundamental step to understanding the primary and secondary effects of a health emergency on different individuals and communities, and for creating effective, equitable policies and interventions. Although sex-disaggregated data for COVID-19 show equal numbers of cases between men and women so far, there seem to be sex differences in mortality and vulnerability to the disease. 2 Emerging evidence suggests that more men than women are dying, potentially due to sex-based immunological 3 or gendered differences, such as patterns and prevalence of smoking. 4 However, current sex-disaggregated data are incomplete, cautioning against early assumptions. Simultaneously, data from the State Council Information Office in China suggest that more than 90% of health-care workers in Hubei province are women, emphasising the gendered nature of the health workforce and the risk that predominantly female health workers incur. 5 The closure of schools to control COVID-19 transmission in China, Hong Kong, Italy, South Korea, and beyond might have a differential effect on women, who provide most of the informal care within families, with the consequence of limiting their work and economic opportunities. Travel restrictions cause financial challenges and uncertainty for mostly female foreign domestic workers, many of whom travel in southeast Asia between the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. 6 Consideration is further needed of the gendered implications of quarantine, such as whether women and men's different physical, cultural, security, and sanitary needs are recognised. Experience from past outbreaks shows the importance of incorporating a gender analysis into preparedness and response efforts to improve the effectiveness of health interventions and promote gender and health equity goals. During the 2014–16 west African outbreak of Ebola virus disease, gendered norms meant that women were more likely to be infected by the virus, given their predominant roles as caregivers within families and as front-line health-care workers. 7 Women were less likely than men to have power in decision making around the outbreak, and their needs were largely unmet. 8 For example, resources for reproductive and sexual health were diverted to the emergency response, contributing to a rise in maternal mortality in a region with one of the highest rates in the world. 9 During the Zika virus outbreak, differences in power between men and women meant that women did not have autonomy over their sexual and reproductive lives, 10 which was compounded by their inadequate access to health care and insufficient financial resources to travel to hospitals for check-ups for their children, despite women doing most of the community vector control activities. 11 Given their front-line interaction with communities, it is concerning that women have not been fully incorporated into global health security surveillance, detection, and prevention mechanisms. Women's socially prescribed care roles typically place them in a prime position to identify trends at the local level that might signal the start of an outbreak and thus improve global health security. Although women should not be further burdened, particularly considering much of their labour during health crises goes underpaid or unpaid, incorporating women's voices and knowledge could be empowering and improve outbreak preparedness and response. Despite the WHO Executive Board recognising the need to include women in decision making for outbreak preparedness and response, 12 there is inadequate women's representation in national and global COVID-19 policy spaces, such as in the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 13 © 2020 Miguel Medina/Contributor/Getty Images 2020 Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active. If the response to disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 is to be effective and not reproduce or perpetuate gender and health inequities, it is important that gender norms, roles, and relations that influence women's and men's differential vulnerability to infection, exposure to pathogens, and treatment received, as well as how these may differ among different groups of women and men, are considered and addressed. We call on governments and global health institutions to consider the sex and gender effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, both direct and indirect, and conduct an analysis of the gendered impacts of the multiple outbreaks, incorporating the voices of women on the front line of the response to COVID-19 and of those most affected by the disease within preparedness and response policies or practices going forward.
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            Is Open Access

            The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the care burden of women and families

            Kate Power (2020)
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              Loneliness, isolation, and social support factors in post-COVID-19 mental health.


                Author and article information

                Gend Work Organ
                Gend Work Organ
                Gender, Work, and Organization
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                30 October 2020
                [ 1 ] Department of Psychology University of South Africa Pretoria South Africa
                Author notes
                [*] [* ] Correspondence

                Bianca Parry, PO Box 392, Unisa 0003, South Africa.

                Email: eparryb@ 123456unisa.ac.za

                © 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

                This article is being made freely available through PubMed Central as part of the COVID-19 public health emergency response. It can be used for unrestricted research re-use and analysis in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source, for the duration of the public health emergency.

                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Pages: 12, Words: 0
                Feminist Frontiers
                Feminist Frontiers
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                covid‐19,gendered,inequitable,south africa
                covid‐19, gendered, inequitable, south africa


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