The Ignored Side Effect of Coronavirus: Women’s Crisis of Reproductive Health

Vicky Lin, Editor

The coronavirus pandemic overwhelmed the world in 2020 and will likely continue its effects in 2021. In the grand scheme of global crisis, people are disproportionately affected across different social groups, especially those who have already been in disadvantageous positions. Currently, women around the world are facing unique but severe problems because of preexisting social inequalities. While we concentrate our energy on stopping the coronavirus from spreading, we must put more attention to the social impacts of the pandemic because they will stay even after the pandemic ends if people ignore them.

One of the most pressing problems that many women are facing relates to social income structures. On average, women hold less secure job positions than men. According to UN Women, 58 percent of employed women around the world work in informal sectors without proper social security protections. For example, women take up the majority of jobs in the domestic sector. Domestic workers have faced a widespread loss of jobs and income cuts since the pandemic starts because they do not have the luxury of “working from home” and social protections. When these women were forced to give up their jobs because of the pandemic, they might not be able to resume working even after the pandemic. Furthermore, according to UN Women, women are overrepresented among the industries hit the hardest by COVID, “such as food service, retail, and entertainment”. Increasing unemployment also has further implications. When the pie of the economy shrinks, people tend to go back to traditional gender roles, which favor men in job recruitment and leave women to domestic, often unpaid, work. 

The coronavirus pandemic also causes a crisis in basic education. In many countries, schools are forced to close because of the pandemic. While some schools switch to online teaching mode, many kids are not able to receive education during quarantine due to lack of resources, especially in developing countries. When family income decreases, kids are likely to be assigned additional responsibility, such as making a living. Girls are more likely to become caregivers to sick family members and younger siblings. All of these factors can reduce the chance that girls return to school after the pandemic, especially in cultures where girls’ education is considered less important. In many developing countries, other side effects of school closure deprives girls of their  sanitary and reproductive health needs. Approximately four million girls in Kenya rely on public schools to receive sanitary products, such as pads. While many have already struggled to live under the poverty line, school closure puts their basic sanitary needs in danger. COVID-19 has put many daily activities on pause, but menstruation doesn’t stop. Unfortunately, in areas where sexual education lacks and women’s reproductive health still remains a taboo topic, it is difficult for sanitary products to be recognized as basic needs for survival, just like food. Furthermore, the number of teen pregnancies have increased in sub-saharan countries since school closure. Kenya reported a 40% increase of teen pregnancies since lockdown. Though reasons for such an increase are unclear, being away from school makes teenage girls in poverty more prone to sexual violence and transactional sex. Moreover, because of the coronavirus, pregnant teenagers have less access to health care facilities and abortion services, forcing them to give born to their children in unsafe environments. If pregnant teenagers choose to give birth to their children, they would likely have to end school education. The multifaceted impacts of COVID-19 and school closure will likely push back the efforts that have been made to improve education for underprivileged girls. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been eroding worldwide efforts to achieve gender equality. While the world concentrates its efforts on combating the virus, females in underprivileged situations are deprived of financial means and protection for gender-specific health products. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic does not target a specific sex, women’s reproductive characteristics, such as menstruration and pregnancy, make them become more prone to reproductive health problems caused by the pandemic’s side effects. Therefore, the global fight against COVID-19 should not only consider COVID-related diseases but also public health problems such as women’s needs for sanitary products. Countries with large populations of poverty should devote funding to fill the sanitary needs female medical workers and underprivileged females. 

[1] “COVID-19 and Its Economic Toll on Women: The Story behind the Numbers.” UN Women, September 16, 2020. 

[2] Partridge-Hicks, Sophie. “Rise in Teenage Pregnancies in Kenya Linked to COVID-19 Lockdown.” Global Citizen, August 19, 2020.

[3] Muiruri , Peter. “’Sex for Sanitary Pads’: How Kenya’s Lockdown Led to a Rise in Teenage Pregnancy.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, December 24, 2020.