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Why Is COVID-19 Having A Devastating Effect On Women? Part 2

Author - Jodi Montlake

This blog is the second part of a 2 part series where I will be discussing key areas 6-10 below. If you didn’t read the first part you can view it here.

10 Key Areas Where Women Have Been Affected By COVID-19

  1. Socialcare

  2. Childcare

  3. Employment (including furlough and unemployment)

  4. Keyworkers

  5. Children & Adolescents

  6. Violence

  7. Maternal Health

  8. Elderly Women

  9. Global Immigration

  10. Mental Health & Physical Health

6. Women And Violence During COVID-19

The pandemic has shown increased reports of domestic violence, evidenced by research on violence against women and girls (VAWG). This includes violence in the home, against female healthcare workers and against key workers who are black or from another ethinic minority community. Racism, verbal and physical harassment in public spaces and online are more prevalent too. Covid restriction measures such as lockdown have made women more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse as they have been less able to seek refuge from informal support networks and other social safety nets.

  • In November 2020 the police recorded crime data showing an increase in offences flagged as domestic abuse-related during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important to note, figures have been increasing over the years due to improved recording methods.

  • London’s Metropolitan police service received an increased number of calls-for-service for domestic incidents following the lockdown.

  • There has generally been an increase in demand for domestic abuse victim services during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly affecting helplines as lockdown measures eased.

With more people spending longer time at home and unable to escape from their abusive partners, women have found it more difficult to cope, attend counselling or meet friends and family for support. Violence may have become worse as a result of stricter limitations on life.

7. Women And Maternal Mental Health During COVID-19

Clare Wenham, professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said

“We can look to lessons from the West Africa Ebola virus disease outbreak, which showed that the biggest threat to women's and girls' lives was not the virus itself, but the shutdown of routine health services and fear of infection that prevented them from going to health facilities that remained open.”

Increased anxiety due to the risk of mums or babies catching the virus, combined with less healthcare and/or voluntary community support has had a detrimental effect on the health wellbeing amongst mums to be (perinatal women) and new mums (postnatal women). During this vulnerable time (both physically and emotionally for mothers) worries over birthing partners not being able to support women during pregnancy checkups, scans and labour (due to delays in accessing PPE) and friends and family members not being able to provide physical and emotional support face to face after the birth of a baby have heightened the usual fears of new mothers. The normal ways of coping during these times have been taken away and have put many households under strain. Single-parent families have felt even more lonely than in normal times. Virtual support can’t replace practical support and has led to greater stress.

Specialist perinatal mental health services and the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme (IAPT) are struggling to provide support to the many women with perinatal mental health problems. There is also evidence of less investment in maternity services that interact directly with women in the perinatal period, due to public spending austerity policies.

We do not know the long-term impact on how mothers’ poorer mental health will affect their babies as they grow up but early reports have indicated from professionals that children have become more introverted, clingy and are far less socialised with people outside their household than they previously would have been.

8. Older Women During COVID-19

Older people have faced a higher health risk and felt more isolated than many during the pandemic, especially if they have been bereaved and living alone.

Practical concerns like shopping for food, collecting prescriptions and looking after grandchildren require a higher level of care. The government ordered self-isolation particularly affected older women.

According to Statista a report about people living alone in the UK in 2020, by age and gender shows the highest number of women living alone was found among those aged 65 and older with approximately 2.4 million, possibly due to longer life expectancy. In contrast, only 1.2 million men aged 65 and older were reported to be living on their own.

As a consequence, a much higher number of women were affected by the negative effects of the virus.

In addition, not all older women are educated in using technology. Therefore they can’t use FaceTime or Zoom as a means of staying connected.

Financial anxiety and worries for the future have distressed women due to lower pension support compared to men at the same age – either as a result of the gender pay gap, or because they lost their jobs late in their career, or have childcare responsibilities to help their children's children.

9. Women, Global Immigration And COVID-19

In a survey by humanitarian agency Care International the pandemic and resulting economic crises have led migrant workers in the UK and all over the globe to return to their home countries.

Women comprised less than half, 135 million or 48.1 per cent, of the global number of international migrants at mid-year 2020 (UN DESA, 2020). More females are migrating independently for work, education and as heads of households. However, female migrants still face strong discrimination, and are more vulnerable to mistreatment compared to male migrants.

In general, the pandemic has led to an increase in gender-based violence and this has affected migrant women too. (CARE and IRC, 2020).

Female migrant workers around the globe have been more affected by unemployment than female nationals, and can therefore experience double discrimination as both migrants and as women in their host country.

10. Women and Mental Health during COVID-19

Between March 2020 to February 2021 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported the highest levels of anxiety since the ONS began reporting on personal well-being data. Women reported much higher anxiety levels than men.

Further analysis found loneliness was the strongest driver of anxiety. And that someone reporting loneliness is up to 4.7 times more likely to also experience high anxiety than someone who says they never feel lonely.

Additionally, women were found to be 1.3 times more likely to report loneliness than men during this time.

The difference between men and women's level of loneliness and depressive symptoms was largest from June 2020 onwards. This indicates that changes in levels of depression and loneliness were preceded by changes in anxiety.

As the UK government starts to slowly lift restrictions with the COVID-19 roadmap time will tell how women and girls will react to the ‘new normal’. What we do know is COVID-19 has been tough on women and many will need support.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Polly for Women Cio, and/or any/all contributors to this website.

Polly will be a dedicated helpline for women and girls and self-identifying females aged 13+. If you would like to learn more about the women behind Polly, launching in Greater Manchester soon, read more here.

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