United Nations: “Women are disproportionately affected by a pandemic”

women more likely to be affected by health crisis

As countries around the world begin phasing out lockdown measures and rates of infection begin to plateau, the focus of this crisis is shifting as institutions worldwide analyse what constitutes the pandemic’s wider-reaching effects. Last week, the United Nations Population Fund released a report detailing how women find themselves disproportionately affected by health crises. It raises the question: why does this inequality exist and how can governments address it?



“Pre-existing inequalities are exacerbated”

In the report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), research shows that women find themselves disproportionately affected by health crises and pandemics. Pre-existing inequalities and gender norms are exacerbated as the influx of coronavirus patients put healthcare systems under considerable strain, and domestic violence rises dramatically.

Studies carried out in nations across the world paint a clear picture. The majority of people on the frontline of this crisis are women, dominating health and social sectors, pharmacies and food markets. Whereas men are more prevalent in key worker sectors where public contact is low (for example, public sanitation), women more often work in direct line with hundreds of people each day.

Globally, women make up 70% of the health and social sector workforce. Percentages of nursing and social care workers are closer to 83%, which emphasises the higher risk of infection that women face. Since nurses and social workers remain in constant contact with patients and vulnerable people, it paints a bleak picture given their struggles in obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE).


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There is also a higher risk of domestic violence during prolonged periods confined to the home, compounded by increased tensions and stresses due to the uncertainty of such a situation. In the first week of lockdown, French authorities reported a rise of more than 30% in domestic abuse complaints. Countries such as the UK, Spain and the United States have reported that similar patterns are emerging.

Gender analysis in a pandemic

Although some may disagree with a gendered response to a health crisis which affects all, the UN asserts it is a crucial study in making scientific response more effective.

“Experience from past outbreaks shows the importance of incorporating gender analysis into preparedness and response efforts to improve the effectiveness of health interventions and promote gender equality and health equity.” COVID-19: A Gender Lens

During the 2014–16 West African outbreak of Ebola, women were more likely to be infected by the virus, given their predominant roles as caregivers within families and as frontline medical workers. This infection trend is mirrored in all recent outbreaks caused by coronaviruses, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak and MERS in 2012. Small data patterns in the United States show that women are slightly more likely to get infected than men.

By gendering a pandemic, much like dividing patients by age, the scientific community can better focus on treatments. It is essential to the Covid-19 outbreak, as this higher infection rate amongst women highlights how deadly the virus is amongst men.

UN predictions: reality on the French Riviera

Such reports can seem rather abstract when not related to a particular context. When applied to the French Riviera and the Principality of Monaco, it is clear they are no exception to the UN’s findings. According to the latest statistics from IMSEE, women make up a vast majority of the key workers in Monaco. Over 70% of those who work in health and social care, teaching and administration are women. The percentage working in “other service industries”, a category in which supermarket workers and pharmacists find themselves, constitutes 60%.



So how is the UN report shaping up in reality? Sadly, it seems all too well. 

Two nurses from the French Riviera have made headlines with their efforts to highlight the tough situation faced by health workers in France. A home visit nurse from Cagnes-sur-Mer told Nice Matin that she no longer felt able to keep her patients safe due to lack of PPE. Unable to access masks, scrubs or antibacterial gels, she stopped working to avoid spreading Covid-19 to her patients and family.

“We’re walking viruses! We’re being sent to the front – since we’re at war – dealing with weakened people. I’m disgusted. I’m revolted. At the end of the week, I’m stopping everything to save my life and those of others.”

This is not the only case backing up the UN predictions. Fanny Cassez, another home visit nurse from Le Var, took to social media to outline how unsafe many other nurses, paramedics and social workers feel. Few are appropriately equipped with the necessary gear to stop spreading the virus to the many vulnerable people they deal with each day.

Key workers in solidarity in Monaco

Fortunately, the Prince’s Government has been able to provide health care workers at the Princess Grace Hospital Centre with adequate PPE. Elsewhere, women all around the Principality are working to ease difficulties caused by the crisis, regardless of profession. Aides pour les rĂ©sidents Ă  Monaco, a Facebook group set up by Julia Moraly, sees hundreds of helpful publications a day. From government updates to friendly offers to go food shopping, the group is a testament to the solidarity borne from the crisis.

When asked about her thoughts on the praise that women are receiving, Moraly was clear. “I find it reductive to position a gender-based approach to a health crisis that affects everyone. For me, it is a question of protecting the human being by putting forward policy and measures aimed at getting back to normal life.”

Indeed, the virus spreads indiscriminately. But she acknowledged the broader social issues which some people will face in the aftermath of the crisis.

“In all honesty, this global crisis will accentuate social disparities without making any distinction between men and women. [So] I think it is time to show what brings us together rather than makes us different.” 

Monaco and domestic abuse

As the UN report predicted, figures around the world have already demonstrated an upward trend in domestic abuse. No statistics show what the case for Monaco is, yet the Women’s Right Committee (ComitĂ© Droits des Femmes) have assured there has been no increase since the beginning of lockdown.

In an interview with Monaco Info, the committee’s Ministerial representative CĂ©line Cottalorda asserted there had not been an increase. She did acknowledge the difficulties presented by lockdown for those living in an abusive relationship.

“Like in France, we have witnessed a drop in calls to social services,” admitted the delegate. “It is likely that this is reduced because, given the proximity to their abuser during lockdown, it is hard to ring for help or go to an association.”

Two new measures were put in place at the start of lockdown to avoid an increase in cases of violence. Those fearing their situation at home can go to any pharmacy in the Principality to denounce their abuser. Workers will ring the police or other institutions for them to deal with the situation safely. Secondly, they have set up an email which discreetly (but directly) links victims to the Monaco police.

Cottalorda stressed that all individuals in Monaco should warn authorities if they suspect someone they know is in danger. It is proof that the need to protect the Principality’s residents at times reaches beyond social distancing and hand washing.

Their campaign “Lockdown is no excuse for violence” has spread across social media in the previous weeks, confirming that all institutions which help domestic abuse victims remain open.

The Victims of Criminal Offences Help Association (AVIP) is still dealing with all cases brought to them, working closely with the Monaco Red Cross to do so. Their guidelines state that victims of domestic abuse can contact the social services of the Direction de l’Action Sanitaire et Sociale at any time. They can also offer you legal help, psychological support, information on your rights, and emergency accommodation for victims and their children.

In her interview with Monaco Info, Cottalorda referred to the inequalities which worsen during a health crisis, acknowledging those most exposed to the virus were the significant number of women on the frontline in Monaco. Moreover, she highlighted the difficulties faced by women who are now working from home, as they are too often the parent expected to handle child care, schooling and chores. Lockdown or otherwise.

The solution?

The UNFPA outlined the steps that governments must take to avoid worsening the situation for female citizens.

“Given women’s frontline interaction with communities and their participation in much of the care work, they face a higher risk of exposure. But, with such proximity to the community, women are also well placed to positively influence the design and implementation of prevention activities and community engagement.” From the report COVID-19: A Gender Lens. Protecting sexual and reproductive health rights and promoting gender equality.

Therefore, women can be protected from exacerbated inequalities if governments and associations are ready to implement systems to avoid this. Monaco has clearly made efforts in safeguarding not only its female key workers but also women across the territory.

Lockdown measures are slowly easing in some parts of the world, but the majority of Europe remains confined to their homes. Monaco announced that the end of lockdown will be May 4th.