Gender and COVID: Counting on the Uncounted
Covid-19 has been an inadvertent PSA for sweeping change that’s been more potent than Tik-Tok and Greta Thunberg combined. This pandemic is practically screaming at us to wake up and smell the bleach. The world designed by the few and powerful is unsustainable, unjust, inequitable, and has mistreated a lot of valuable resources – most importantly people.
Viruses don’t discriminate. But they do expose how the same disease can affect people profoundly differently: who is able to stay home, who can access testing, treatment and quality care. As we’re seeing across the US, black Americans are dying from Covid-19 at 2.4 times the rate of white Americans. These disproportionate mortality rates quantify the effects of systemic racism and inequality on health. Racism is a public health issue.
The PSA for gender equality is less clear – largely because the narrative is full of holes. We know more men are dying from Covid-19, but beyond infection and mortality data, it seems inarguable that women are suffering more from living with the pandemic. They are doing more at home, more often holding frontline roles in hospitals, nursing homes, service industries and beyond. They are at greater risk of domestic violence.
But the full effects of Covid-19 on women aren’t quantified, because women may not even be counted.
This month, we speak to Sarah Hawkes, a Professor of Global Public Health at UCL and co-founder of Global Health 50/50, set up to promote gender equality in global public health. If you care about equality, equity and yes, even data, skip to our Spotlight on Women section and have a listen to Professor Hawkes as she breaks it all down for us.
Meanwhile, we’re busy mastering the virtual world at Common Thread. We’ve taught two courses with NYU on behavioural strategies for Covid. We’re designing our second virtual workshop, this time to help prepare the ground for the newest Polio vaccine.
We’re gearing up for virtual HCD research in Zambia, Myanmar and Pakistan (read our blog about this on Medium). And we continue to think about how we can do better to promote equality and diversity in our company. We’re open to suggestions!
If you want even more distractions from doom-scrolling, check out our Field Notes page or our Twitter, Medium, and Instagram feeds.
Stay safe and stay healthy, friends – and please don’t inject bleach, no matter how bad things get.
Sherine and Mike
Spotlight: An Interview with Professor Sarah Hawkes
How can the global health community address gender inequalities if they’re not collecting sex-disaggregated data on COVID-19? What does gender equality look like in the world’s leading public health organisations ? And how can organisations like ours approach gender better?
Before Covid-19 was even in full effect, the Atlantic declared it a “disaster for feminism.” As schools and offices worldwide began to shut down, the writing was on the wall: women should get ready to travel back in time. Three months in, the prediction seems fair.
Women perform 76% of unpaid care work across the world. Women are caring for the sick, and they’re caring for their families. They’re wiping down groceries, packages, surfaces, and home schooling kids. The upside is that with everyone home to witness what usually happens behind the scenes, the invisible workload has just become very visible – and possibly more valued. Orrrrrr… maybe not.
Outside the home, women are on the front lines. Over 70 per cent of global workers in health are women. The majority of these workers are nurses – those closest to patients, drawing blood and collecting specimens. Did you know that PPE is largely designed to fit a male body? So even when women have access, they’re still at risk.
And if this all wasn’t enough, there’s been a shadow pandemic happening in homes – a global rise in violence towards women. In public health, failing to collect data on the specific experiences of women can literally have deadly consequences.
The 2020 Global Health 50/50 Report published by our guest this month, Professor Sarah Hawkes, dares to imagine a world in which inequality for women is one of the things we leave behind after Covid-19. The world Professor Hawkes imagines is one in which more women are at the top table of global public health.
Professor Hawkes’ advice to us at Common Thread? “Don’t fall into the trap that so many organizations have done in the past of thinking that gender means women, and women means making babies.”
The Lessons That Are Sticking With Us
As Vaccine Rates Drop, Conspiracies Rise
Vaccine rates are dropping dangerously across the world. UNICEF has warned that more than 117 million children are at risk of missing measles vaccinations in 37 countries. Meanwhile after a brief disorienting moment when we wondered whether COVID would force an anti vax reckoning, the movement doubled down on confusion, 5G signals and microchips.
The Public Health Practitioner’s Guide to Antiracism
Looking to brush up on the historical roots of racism in public health, or simply want to make sure you’re part of the solution? This list of Antiracism Resources for Epidemiologists and Public Health Researchers is 5 pages of book titles, articles, research methods, and models for more inclusion in public health. For a more regular infusion, sign up to the AntiRacism.Club’s weekly digest. Delivered every Sunday morning.
Sex is Complicated
Don’t say we didn’t warn you. And now it applies to Covid-19. Academics say a focus on sex and gender is not enough to understand and respond to Covid-19. We need to ”capture experiences of different groups of women, men and gender diverse people” in order to fully understand what’s happening.
The Heroes We’re Remembering
She discovered Coronavirus
June Almeida was a pioneer of virus imaging who discovered coronaviruses decades ago. She was largely forgotten until the current outbreak. The daughter of a Scottish bus driver, Dr Almeida left school at 16 before becoming a virologist and discovering the first human coronavirus, although her research was initially rejected.
The Stories We Can’t Stop Talking About
Is Behavioural Public Policy In Crisis?
Behaviour change is at the heart of preventing Covid – so why has behavioural public policy only played a marginal role according to Varun Gauri? Others are questioning the field’s value in an emergency like a pandemic.
The Politicisation of Public Health
“Two weeks ago we shamed people for being in the street; today we shame them for not being in the street,”, writes Thomas Chatterton Williams of the Guardian. Society, media, and politicians are deciding when it is socially acceptable to defy public health orders, and when it isn’t. When there is future advice to submit to an unproven vaccine or take other preventative measures, future, will anyone still listen to public health advice?
The Research We’re Curious About
This is London Calling
We don’t even have a Covid-19 vaccine yet, and social media is already teeming with misinformation. Experts are calling for a more organized, more potent pro-vaccine movement. WHO have joined forces with the UK to ‘Stop the Spread’ of distorted messages, making a unified message available via the BBC World News – the main source for global news during the Second World War.
The ‘Invisible’ South
Social Science has responded quickly to the Pandemic, but the Global South has been completely invisible. Only one research project of over 230 social science projects currently tracked is looking at countries in Africa and only two are covering South America.
What’s Distracting Us From Our Work
What a Nag
The Malaysian Women’s Affairs Agency had to publicly apologize for a ‘public health’ campaign telling women how to avoid domestic violence during lockdown. Step 1: Speak with a cartoon cat voice. Step 2. Wear make up. Step 3: ‘Avoid nagging your husbands’. #truth
Playlist from Africa
Ugandan popstar-turned-political-opposition-leader Bobi Wine dishes out rhymes to combat misinformation in his #dontgoviral campaign. And as Liberia’s infection rate increased so did efforts from HipCo rap musicians who produced not 1, but 3 songs to spread facts.
If Quarantine had a Soundtrack
This would be it. We’ve all been this woman at least once during lockdown. Also… maybe this woman during homeschooling lessons.
When People Have Too Much Time on Their Hands
This is what happens. Here’s 21 oddly fascinating minutes of insight into the mind of a misdirected nerd.
This Newsletter Was Produced While
Mike spent a good while hunting (get it?) for Matt Damon who was spotted shopping, buying coffee, swimming in the sea with his family and other endearingly mortal things while in lockdown in Dalkey, Dublin. Meanwhile, this can’t come soon enough, though cootie cones can wait.
Sherine has been going round and round the lockdown wheel. Here’s a little glimpse into life in Romania during Covid. You may not be surprised that Steve Carrel and John Malkovich sending a Chimpstronaut to the moon has been the best part of June.
Felicity was keeping sane by attempting a 4000-piece jigsaw puzzle (would not recommend), but finding solace in some beautiful London evening strolls, and the comfort of a continuous stream of great internet memes. Diving into an old bookshelf, she re-read David Abram’s ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ – recommended to those interested in storytelling/ planetary health/anthropology from a sleight of hand magician!
Pauline’s been enjoying summer in Canada, after a treacherous May filled with 30 degree celsius highs and -2 lows. She’s now oot and aboot canoeing along the Ottawa canal and portaging through the forest… O Canada!