Physical Effects of COVID-19 on Women
Studies are currently underway to assess the impact COVID-19 has on women they’re pregnant. Expecting mothers are especially vulnerable to disease; they are prone to becoming more ill when suffering from an infection, and previous coronaviruses like MERS and SARS tended to have more severe impacts on pregnant women than others in the population.
Information is still being compiled on how COVID-19 affects pregnant women, but data suggests that the disease doesn’t disrupt early fetal development and that fetuses rarely become infected later in pregnancy. But expecting mothers do seem to be at a higher risk of having more severe symptoms. At the end of June, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data that showed that pregnant women with COVID-19 were 50% more likely to be admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) and 70% more likely to end up on a ventilator. Some studies suggest these numbers could be even higher.
Doctors and scientists speculate that this is because COVID-19 tends to target the lungs and cardiovascular system, both of which are already strained during pregnancy.
But there’s an upside…
Though pregnant women are at a higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms of COVID-19, data suggests that the infection isn’t more deadly in them than it is in the general population. And, as a whole, women are much less likely to die from the disease than men. In fact, it appears that men are nearly twice as likely to die from the disease compared to women.
Many researchers attribute this to the hormonal differences in men and women. Female sex hormones seem to activate mast cells, which play a huge part in our immune response. This may be why men often suffer worst and more prolonged illnesses than women who are infected with the same pathogen. The downside is that women are much more likely to be diagnoses with autoimmune diseases.
But hormones aren’t the only factor at play. Even women who are past their reproductive years fare better than men of the same age. This suggests that sociological issues are also at play. In many cultures, men as a whole smoke more often and drink more heavily than women. But there could be countless behavioral and cultural factors that impact the health of each sex, all of which might influence how severely COVID-19 might affect an individual.
But in the time of COVID-19, avoiding and surviving infection aren’t the only issues women must contend with.
COVID-19, Women, and the Workplace
The pandemic has taken a toll on more than just our health; it’s also impacted the economic, social, and financial wellbeing of our communities and households. Women in particular are struggling with the fallout of COVID-19 on their professional lives.
Women’s place in the workforce makes them more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 and, in many cases, less able to take time off or seek medical treatment if they do become infected. Women make up 70% of front-line healthcare workers globally and 60% of essential workers like pharmacy, convenience store, and airline workers. As a result, women are more likely to be exposed to the virus. And many of the women who are employed as essential workers are paid very little, which means they are more likely to feel obligated to work – even when sick – and unwilling or unable to pay for medical treatment.
COVID-19’s Effect on Women’s Mental Health
COVID-19 has also had a devastating effect on women’s mental health. Data suggests that women are expressing greater distress in response to the pandemic than their male counterparts. In one study, 83% of women report they are experiencing significantly worst depression while only 36% of men say the same. In another poll, 53% of women vs. 37% of men note that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.
There are many reasons COVID-19 may be damaging women’s mental health more than men. Some numbers suggest that women, especially those without a college education, are losing their jobs at a higher rate than men. This can be the source of immense financial strain. It can also cause emotional duress for women who are spending more time isolated at home or caring for children who can’t go to school. Issues surrounding women’s mental health and COVID-19 are further compounded by factors like post-partum depression and abusive relationships.
Limited Access to Essential Services for Women during the Pandemic
Contraception and Reproductive Health
As COVID-19 started to spread across borders, countries, and continents, experts and women’s rights activists began voicing their concern for women’s health. In one 2020 poll, 1/3 of American women claimed they wanted to either postpone having children or reduce the number of children they planned on having. But in the same poll, 1/3 of women reported the pandemic was making it difficult for them to get contraceptives or seek reproductive medical care.
The numbers are staggering. Data suggests that over a six-month period, 47 million women across the world will lose access to contraceptives during the pandemic, which could lead to an estimated 7 million unintended pregnancies.
Gender-based violence is violence that occurs when someone takes advantage of an unequal power relationship between genders. This “unequal power” can be societal or situational. Experts warned that violence against women would increase as the pandemic progressed and activities like social distancing, self-quarantine, and lockdowns continued.
One US study found that less women were reporting their abuse, but that the severity and incidence of attacks had almost doubled between March and May of 2020. Researchers believe this may be because women are having a harder time finding outside help. As a result, they don’t report their assaults until they’ve escalated in frequency and violence.
One report from France found that domestic violence increased by 30% in the first week of lockdown. Another study estimates that around 5 million additional cases of gender-based violence will occur globally for each month that the pandemic persists.
In March of 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimated that 1.52 billion children worldwide were unable to go to school due to the pandemic. For girls and young women in developing nations and vulnerable communities, schools can be safe havens. Unfortunately, many of them will never pick up their education again.
Disruptions in schooling and social programs could lead to an additional 2 million female genital mutilations and 13 million child marriages over the next 10 years.
If you’d like to learn more or find a way to help, there are a number of organizations fighting for women’s rights. Amnesty International, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation all help women and girls suffering from social and economic injustices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How does COVID-19 affect women’s health?
While women are just as likely to contract COVID-19 as men, they’re about half as likely to die from the disease. This could be due to a combination of social and biological factors. Unfortunately, data suggests that pregnant women suffer from more severe symptoms when infected; they’re much more likely to be placed in the ICU or on a ventilator, but they’re not any more likely to die from the illness than other COVID-19 patients.
How does COVID-19 affect women in the workplace?
Because front-line medical workers and essential workers are predominantly female, women are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. They’re also more likely to lose their jobs if working in the service industry, which could lead to financial hardship and added strain to their mental wellbeing. Women who are paid less are also often reluctant to take time off from work or visit a doctor if they do become ill.
How does COVID-19 affect women’s mental health?
Studies suggest that women are mentally impacted more negatively than men by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re more likely to lose their jobs and, in many communities, take on the added burden of caring for children who are unable to go to school during the pandemic. They report experiencing worse depression and a higher negative impact on their mental health than men do.
How does COVID-19 affect women’s access to reproductive healthcare?
The pandemic has interrupted health services in some locations. This means that many women are unable to obtain contraceptives. Experts predict that nearly 47 million women will be unable to access birth control and that 7 million unintended pregnancies will occur in the first 6 months of the pandemic.
How does COVID-19 affect violence against women?
Early studies suggest that social distancing, interruption of social services, and lockdowns have drastically increased the frequency and severity of violence against women. Experts believe that these factors trap women in situations where assaults occur. The victims’ inability to get outside help means that their abuse continues to escalate.
How does COVID-19 affect women’s education?
About 1.5 billion children were unable to attend school in early 2020 due to the pandemic. Education is an essential tool in the fight for women’s rights. Girls and young women are statistically less likely to return to school once the pandemic ends. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, experts worry that more girls and young women will be kept out of school and subjected to practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage.