By Flaminia Luck
From the absence of women from expert panels and government decision making to the male-centric plan to reopen the country, the British government has consistently failed to consider how lockdown measures impact women.
While this unprecedented health crisis has impacted both men and women, as this list shows, failure to integrate a gendered perspective into the government’s strategy has led to wider socio-economic consequences on women past purely health ones.
1. Shocking rise in domestic violence
A survey conducted by The Women’s Aid Survivor found that for women experiencing abuse, 61.3% reported it had got worse under lockdown. 72% said that their abusers had more control over their lives and that the lockdown restrictions were being exploited to perpetuate abuse.
Between 23rd March and 31st May 2020, the UK also saw a 42% reduction in the number of refuge vacancies meaning there was significantly less opportunity to escape abusers.
Furthermore, the reduction in social interactions and instruction to ‘Stay at home’ meant that women could no longer rely on the help of family, friends or work colleagues. 80% of survivors who had previously received support said the end to this informal support network had led to a strong sense of isolation.
2. Job losses and unemployment
A report done by the University of Exeter has found that women are almost twice as likely than men to have lost their job during the pandemic. The research found that 8.6% of women had been made redundant during lockdown in comparison to 4.4% of men. Data from LinkedIn has also shown that women were less likely to be hired during the height of lockdown in April than men were.
Women are more likely to work in social sectors such as hospitality, retail, tourism, services industries which have been most affected by social distancing measures. With many of these industries either permanently or temporarily closed, a higher number of women have been placed in job insecurity.
In the health sector, women make up 70% of frontline health crisis which means they are more likely to be in contact with the virus putting them at more of a significant risk of being susceptible to infection.
3. The double burden of housework and childcare
When it comes to domestic life, women are more likely than men to bear the brunt of childcare and home-schooling duties. Figures from the ONS show that women on average are providing 2/3 more childcare duties than men during lockdown. A poll found that 1 in 6 working mothers reported having to cut back hours in order to look after children demonstrating the how gendered the issue of childcare still is.
Professor Barbara Petrongolo, Associate in Labour Markets at the CEP, said: “The Covid-19 crisis is currently widening the gender gap at work, where women are more likely to lose their jobs than men, and at home, where women are taking on the bulk of childcare.
This combination of factors has already caused unprecedented damage to advancements made by women at both work and home. Data from UN Women has predicted that up to thirty years worth of working towards more gender equality could be undone as the economic fallout of the pandemic becomes increasingly visible.
4. Absence of childcare from government policy
Boris Johnson has drawn criticism from the opposition and his own party for neglecting to include childcare in the government’s economic recovery plan. Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was accused of gross oversight for putting ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ at the forefront of the summer without enough childcare provisions to support this initiative.
Without vital childcare infrastructure, this push to get parents back to work as they had done pre-pandemic would disproportionately impact women and their careers. Labour MP, Stella Creasy question Sunak on this matter at PMQs, “One word that hasn’t been mentioned so far and yet we know that two thirds of women who want to return to work in the next couple of months can’t because they can’t get any [childcare].”
The Fawcett Society have warned that progress made closing the gender gap in the workplace could be reversed if women are unable to return to work without proper childcare provisions in place.
5. Pregnancy and childbirth
Due to hospital guidelines, some women have been forced to mark some of most important milestones of their pregnancy completely alone. Some expectant mothers have had to attend scans, go to midwife appointments and even give birth alone. Until 15th December, women giving birth could only have one birthing partner with them in the delivery room.
Expectant parents have questioned why pubs and cinemas have been open as early as July but restrictions on labour and pregnancy still remain. Missing out on such significant moments can have lasting mental and emotional consequences. The #butnotmaternity campaign aimed to highlight this disparity and more than half a million people signed a petition to lift restrictions for pregnant women.
6. Lack of government representation
Boris Johnson has been criticised in the past for his ‘blokey government’ and a ‘boys club’ with 15 of his 20 Cabinet ministers being men and his inner circle exclusively male with women shut out of key decision making.
A tally by The Guardian found that Downing Street had not had a female minister lead the coronavirus press briefing in over six months. From 16th March and 23 June, of the government’s 92 briefings, only three were led by a woman, Priti Patel.
Wera Hobhouse, a Lib Dem MP, said on the matter, “Given the incompetence of this male-dominated government and the confusion they’ve caused through muddled messages throughout this pandemic, perhaps they would benefit from more women making decisions and communicating with the public.”
Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, has described the government’s decision-making as “driven by men, for men, ignoring the voices of women”. From the government’s neglect of women’s needs in their pandemic response, it is evident that when women are absent in politics, they are absent in policy too.
7. Attitude towards female-dominated industry
During Prime Minister’s Questions back in July, Conservative MP William Wragg, asked the Prime Minister when the beauty industry would be able to reopen again. Wragg and Johnson’s sneering exchange in the House of Commons was met with laughter and derision in the Chamber which has been described as “downright disrespectful” by the constituent whom Wragg was representing.
Despite their belittlement of the sector, the value of the beauty industry totals 1.3% of the country’s GDP and provides well over half a million jobs, predominantly women. Tracie Giles, a salon owner from London, said "The general beauty industry is worth nearly £30billion to the UK economy but we have been disregarded as frivolous and unnecessary by the male-dominated Government, who are actively choosing to ignore this female-led industry.”
8. Re-opening of events
Without playing into gender stereotypes, the government’s obsession with re-opening the pubs and bringing football fans back into stadiums says a lot about who they’re choosing to prioritise. With such male-dominated activities at the forefront on the government’s reopening strategy, it is painfully obvious this these to get back to normal was written by men for men.
When some women have had to give birth alone, domestic abuse has skyrocketed and access to abortions has become harder, it’s crystal clear how male-centric this government is and whose livelihoods they have put first.
9. Sanitary products not included in essential items
During the lockdown in Wales in October, a supermarket in St Mellons near Cardiff included period products in ‘non-essential’ section of the store. During this firebreak lockdown, supermarkets were required by the Welsh government to cordon off sections of their store that sold ‘non-essential’ items such as electrical, toys and clothes.
Nichola Smith, a customer of the store, took to Twitter to vent her frustration at not being able to buy sanitary items.
While this act was condemned and the supermarket apologised, the fact that sanitary items would be classed as ‘non–essential’ is indicative of the sheer level of ignorance towards women’s needs and the lack of women in leadership and management positions.
10. Gym closures
In the dark, dreary nights around this time of year when the sun sets at about 4pm, many women don’t feel safe exercising alone outside. The additional closure of gyms and outside leisure facilities has forced many women to choose between their safety or their physical health. Many women are then also robbed of the equally important mental health benefits that comes with regular exercise.