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Gender Equality during COVID-19

We remain deeply concerned about the cumulative impact of disasters on women, particularly in East Gippsland communities – drought, fire and now COVID-19 pandemic. The complexity of what is unfolding is unprecedented, with rural and remote communities already severely disadvantaged. Women’s roles are fundamental to keeping our communities safe and functioning. It is important to recognise the increasing pressure on women.

Gender and Disaster

Gender inequality is known to worsen during most disasters.[1] Traditional stereotypes of male and female roles re-emerge as people attempt to deal with the distress, chaos and loss of control over their surroundings. Typically men step into being the protective, controlling decision makers and women to being the nurturers and passive partners. Often the decisions and emergency relief and recovery planning can also reflect society’s expectations of traditional male and female roles, further disadvantaging women and their voices in the process.

Read our Issues Paper below for more detail on Disaster and Gender.

[1] Zara, C; Parkinson, D; Duncan, A and Joyce, K. Men and disaster: Men’s experiences of the black Saturday bushfires and the aftermath. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, The, Vol. 31, No. 3, Jul 2016

Gender Equality and COVID-19 Joint Statement

Gippsland Women’s Health supports this joint statement, signed by over 70 organisations committed to gender equity and women across Victoria, calling for State and Federal Governments to recognise the gendered impacts of COVID-19 and seeks a gender equitable responses to the pandemic.

*Family violence risk increases in times of disaster. Please note that agencies are still providing safety and support services and are available for contact, refer Gippsland Stop Family Violence card.

Gender Equality and COVID-19 Joint Statement

Over 50 organisations committed to gender equity and women across Victoria have made a joint statement calling for State and Federal Governments to recognise the gendered impacts of COVID-19.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is exceptionally difficult for everyone and is having a huge impact on all our lives. So far, a gender analysis of the impact of pandemic has been largely invisible in public debate and planning. Many women are on the frontline, delivering essential services in nursing, disability and mental health care, aged-care, early childhood education, teaching, family violence, housing & homelessness, social support and retail. As public fear, concerns for ill-health, financial strain and mandatory isolation intensify in the community, women at the frontline are at increased risk of gendered violence. Gendered work in caring professions has traditionally been low paid and insecure, yet Victorian women are now finding themselves delivering whole of community solutions that support the entire state economy and public health plans. 

 Now that schools have moved online with limited face to face care and assistance to essential service workers, it will be women who continue to take on most of the unpaid care work, reducing their hours or giving up paid work, turning the clock back on gender equality. Or they will battle on in an unenviable juggle struggle of keeping both care work and remote employment going at the same time. Women will also be more likely to care for older or disabled relatives and neighbours. The Victorian Government’s Report into the value of unpaid labour in Victoria assessed women’s work at a value of $205 Billion – half of the state’s GDP. The value if this work will only increase during the pandemic. 

For women in insecure work who have lost employment altogether, they face increasing risk of poverty, building on already concerning statistics about the levels of poverty facing single mothers and single women in their senior years.

We are also concerned that Victorian women will be at risk of family and other forms of gendered violence while self-isolating at home. Expert research conducted in Victoria into the connection between Gender and Disaster has found that family violence incidents spike during and after catastrophic events. 

Governments are investing millions of dollars in survival and stimulus money and it will be important for the specific challenges women are facing to be included in disaster response and recovery. Before Covid19, Victoria was already in state-wide disaster response and recovery after the summer bushfires, with many communities across the state already tired and hurting. Gender equal decision making is critical to achieving gender equality before, during and after disaster. Women, girls and gender diverse people must be seen, have their voices heard and their needs met.”

 

Gender Equity in a Time of Pandemic: 10 Things Government Can Do Now

  1. Fund Gender & Disaster Workers

Each metropolitan, rural, and remote area of the state needs a dedicated Gender & Disaster worker working with community organisations to deliver localised health and wellbeing responses, violence prevention initiatives and building community connectedness and support. Further, state-wide responses should enable Gender & Disaster workers to  provide their expertise, within an intersectional framework to migrant and refugee communities, women with disabilities, Indigenous women and women living in rural and remote areas.

 

  1. Protect obstetric, gynaecological, sexual and reproductive health services from Covid19 contamination

Women need health services for birthing and pre & post-natal care that is virus free and safe. Steps need to be taken to ensure that maternity services are protected from Covid19 without risks to mother or child. We know there were higher rates of maternal and infant mortality during the Ebola pandemic as health services became stressed under the weight of the emergency response.

Women also need access to safe terminations. Many more women may choose not to remain pregnant during a period of high mental health stress, financial pressure and global uncertainty. Termination services, including telehealth, need to be supported to respond appropriately to any demand and to be virus free. For this reason, terminations need to be assessed as essential, rather than elective health interventions.

 

  1. Boost family violence prevention and response activities to cope with an increased demand for support in the community

Gender & Disaster experts report that during and after a significant catastrophic event, the pressure on families rises significantly. There can be a return to rigid stereotypes which see men assume far more dominant roles in the household. In a pandemic with long periods of quarantine these issues are predictably more acute.

Family violence incidents are anticipated to rise during the pandemic and services and emergency responders need to be funded to provide skilled responses to the crisis. In some circumstances, it will also be necessary to empower specialist family violence services with remote safety support facilities.

 

  1. Ensure all Covid19 Updates & communications and data gathering applies a gender lens. 

We support the production of the Chief Medical Officer’s Covid19 daily update, including the inclusion of sex-disaggregated data, however we would like to see multilingual information specifically tailored for women, as well as formatting that is shareable on social media, mobile phones and other digital devices. Multi-lingual delivery needs to include in-language radio, ethnic press, language-specific social media and other strategies.

Further, intersectional analysis of the impact of the virus on marginalised cohorts such as Indigenous women, women with disabilities, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women from rural and regional locations and low-socio-economic backgrounds should also be produced on a fortnightly basis.

   

  1. Provide a wage subsidy to all workers in hard hit industries.

Watching people standing in a Centrelink queue during a pandemic is a devastating sign of the economic impact of the pandemic. Economic plans at a Federal level need to focus on immediate financial relief as well as prioritising public health. Workers in hard hit industries need immediate guarantees of their income. This is what is happening in the UK and NZ.  A wage subsidy should apply to both full time, part time and casual workforce, given that women are the majority of the nation’s part-time & casual work force.

Wage subsidies should also be available to casual workers with less than 12 months continuous employment – the majority of whom will be women. The industries hardest hit by this are accommodation and food services (54.9% women), retail trade (55% women), health care and social assistance (79% women) and education and training (73.2% women).

 

  1. Provide recognition and support to carers & educators at home.

In Japan, parents are being paid to stay at home and care for their children. To assist with the additional costs associated with increasing internet access, online educational videos and the purchase of books and other equipment at home, an in-home education allowance for Australians  would address some of the educational disadvantages presented by home-schooling during the pandemic.

Seniors make up 15% of Victoria’s population, but not all of them live in supported aged care facilities. Many seniors instead rely on family members – mostly women – to provide care and support to enable them to stay living independently at home. The support provided by women carers to elderly relatives is made more difficult and risky by the social isolation enforced under the Covid 19 Level 3 restrictions. Recognition of the support being provided by carers at this time could be facilitated with a one-off carer recognition payment. 

 

  1. Women essential service workers need urgent Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and recognition of the risky work they are performing.

It’s bad enough that there are insufficient stockpiles for health workers – but for a number of women who find themselves providing essential services in a pandemic there is limited supply (if any at all) to protect Early Childhood educators, teachers, aged-care, disability and mental health workers, frontline family violence case managers and refuge workers from infection while serving the community. The inadequate supply of PPE in gendered professions needs to be rectified immediately and in further pandemic plans. Further, essential service workers in frontline caring professions should receive an “essential service worker bonus” as part of further stimulus packages.

 

  1. All essential workers should also have childcare funded by the Commonwealth for the duration of the pandemic.

During this crisis, there has been significant emphasis on the contribution of teachers and early childhood educators make to enable a productive economy. As schools close, essential service workers should not be penalised with additional childcare costs for keeping the rest of the country going. Essential service workers cannot stay home and care for children so the best we can do as a country is cover the fees associated with the care and support their own children need.

 

  1. Commence gender-based planning for post-pandemic reboot of the Victorian economy. Create a Pandemic Stand Down Taskforce to prioritise investment in services & infrastructure required to ensure Victoria gets back on its feet swiftly.

Gender responsive budgeting, investment and economic rebuilding after Covid19 will be essential to ensure that the road to economic recovery does not have a fast track for men and a slow lane for women. Women need to be at the centre of economic rebuilding after pandemic stand-down so that there are no gender gaps in income, employment opportunities and infrastructure investment. A Pandemic Stand-Down Taskforce preparing Victoria for a post Corona-virus rebuilding and investment phase should be established with equal representation of women and a commitment to gender equity.

The COVID19 Commission board and further appointments to any commission focussed on response and recovery should have gender equal representation, in accordance with the Federal and State Government commitment to 50/50 representation of men and women on government boards and in accordance with international frameworks for disaster risk reduction.

 

  1. Get gender equality investment Back on Track. Ensure that all rebuild efforts and investment apply a gender lens so that women and men benefit equally from the long journey towards recovery.  

Before Covid19 there were inequalities in budgeting that mean women, girls and gender diverse people receive less direct investment in projects, programs and initiatives that benefit them. Pandemic risks further derailing attempts to get gender equity investment back on track. Gains made in Victoria through the legislation of a Gender Equality Act should not be lost as budgets are geared towards disaster response and recovery without oversight by a thorough gender responsive budgeting process.

View full list of organisation endorsing this statement in the downloadable statement above.