New year new tag! 2020 was the year that no one had been able to imagine in advance would change as much as we had previously taken for granted; to go to work or school, hang out with friends or hug a grandmother. The year has been interspersed with hope, disappointment and many times even hopelessness.
The definition of a pandemic is an epidemic (usually an infectious disease) that has spread over large parts of the world and affects a large part of the population in each country. The fact that so many have been affected by the same virus has led to a common expression during the year being "we are all in the same boat" and fighting the deadly virus together. But that is certainly not the case.
If there is one thing that has become visible during the pandemic, it is how differently we are affected. At home in Sweden, no one has managed to avoid some people being in mortal danger while others get a little cough or no symptoms at all. If one looks up from Sweden, the picture becomes even clearer. In other words, we are not in the same boat.
When the virus struck Europe, countries responded quickly by imposing restrictions and recommendations to stop the spread of infection. When the first cases were discovered in Africa, similar restrictions and recommendations were introduced there as well. One of the most common and effective recommendations for stopping the spread is hand washing with soap and water, easily fixed. No, not if there is no access to soap or even clean water, which is the case 2,1 billion people (29% of the world population).
Even before the pandemic became a fact, women from all over the world warned that the effects of the pandemic would hit women and girls extra hard. Today, several studies have been conducted that testify to how the pandemic has increased the already existing structural inequalities between men and women, as well as for people who are discriminated against due to, for example, ethnicity and / or migrant status.
Some areas where women have been affected more than men by the pandemic are food security, mental illness and financial autonomy. It is often not the virus itself that creates these consequences, but the restrictions that have been introduced, such as curfews, bans on traveling within the country and staying in public places. More women than men have lost their jobs due to over-representation in the service sector and a slightly higher presence in the informal sector, both of which have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions. Women also have less access to unemployment benefits and others social protection.
Both women and men have taken on more responsibility within the household when it comes to unpaid work, but the burden has been greatest for women and girls who have been given more responsibility to take care of loved ones. This results in women having less time and energy to invest in paid work, education and applying for new jobs. The effects of the pandemic have also led to an increase in violence against girls and women in the home, and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights has also deteriorated by pausing other care interventions and devoting resources to combating the pandemic.
My colleagues around the world have also testified that restrictions have been used as a pretext to limit the democratic space of civil society, which has affected women's rights activists extra hard, as they are already marginalized. Many organizations have been forced to suspend activities due to restrictions, reduced space but also due to a shift from rights-based work and political advocacy to more humanitarian efforts.
Strategic and political processes that would normally have included women's rights activists and their expertise and perspective, are now taking place behind closed doors or digitally. Although digitalisation has often been successful, it is a challenge to make these fully inclusive and secure, especially for women's activists who, due to lack of resources, do not have offices with fast and secure internet or reliable electricity supply. The exclusion of women's rights activists is a major setback as it required hard work to open the doors that are now closed again.
The pandemic has undoubtedly had enormous consequences. We will see the effects of them for decades to come, long after the pandemic is over, in the form of a backlash for women's rights, a shrinking democratic space, increased inequality and the risk of conflict. Decision-makers at all levels must now shed light on and address these structural problems that already existed, but which have worsened during the pandemic. No one should be left out.