COVID-19: Opportunity for equality or return to old gender roles?

COVID-19: Opportunity for equality or return to old gender roles?

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Corona crisis sheds new light on gender roles

The coronavirus pandemic and measures to curb infection with the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus affect everyone, but men and women often do so to varying degrees. Often there is a relapse into old gender roles and while a man works in the home office, a woman has to take on a large part of the childcare and cope with the household on her own. On the other hand, the corona crisis also brings opportunities for equality, as the key message in a recent article by the specialist magazine "BMJ".

For women, the corona crisis is often associated with particularly high burdens and there is a risk of relapse into old gender roles that could continue for a long time. However, in the wake of the crisis, men - and especially male superiors - are also clearly shown how difficult it is to get work, childcare and housekeeping under one roof. Clare Wenham from the London School of Economics, Julia Smith from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia (Canada) and Rosemary Morgan from report that this could provide a much better understanding of the challenges many women have faced in the crisis the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore (USA) in a contribution by the "BMJ".

Gender impact of COVID-19

The researchers looked at the gender-specific effects of COVID-19 and show why women are particularly affected. For example, a large proportion of health workers worldwide are female and health care workers are at significantly higher risk of infection, the researchers report. Added to this are the psychological stresses in this professional field.

Women disproportionately burdened

In addition to the burdens caused by the care of the infected, according to the experts, however, the restrictions on everyday life (school closures, changes in the rhythm of work) also disproportionately affect women. In addition, the researchers report that there has been a significant increase in calls to hotlines for domestic violence since the introduction of contact restriction measures. For many women, the corona crisis is also an extreme personal crisis situation in which additional support is urgently needed.

Insights into the reality of life

"However, we see a glimmer of hope: the recognition - especially by employers - of the informal care burden that arises in the home and that is disproportionately, if not exclusively, attributable to women," wrote Wenham, Smith and Morgan. Working in the home office also makes the home routine visible to the boss. "Whether it is the unmade bed in the background, the dirty cups on the sideboard or a child who interrupts the call - the realities of life have been disclosed," emphasize the researchers.

Better opportunities for flexible working

In the background of a meeting, toddlers are quite normal and they can even loosen up the atmosphere a little, but at the same time the stress that the attempt brings to reconciling work and family becomes clear. "Since the bosses are able to see into the double life of people, we hope that this will improve the opportunities for flexible working," said the experts.

The researchers also hope "for greater recognition of the importance of safe childcare - a sector that is almost exclusively occupied by women and is often undervalued - both for families and for our economy."

Balancing act between paid and unpaid work

Recognizing the difficult balancing act between paid and unpaid work and recognizing those who perform essential tasks in the household would be a first step, but the consequences should follow. The scientists emphasize that women have to take on this burden disproportionately, for example, in the national economies.

Shared parental and domestic responsibilities

In addition, it is no longer up to date to assume that women take on the domestic tasks for men, but shared parental and domestic duties will be the model of the future. This must also be taken into account with more flexible working models. In practice, the first path is currently being paved, for example by giving space to the various competing tasks - paid and unpaid. This also includes lower expectations for work and flexible working hours, the researchers report.

Crises can also offer opportunities

There is no reason why these measures have to end after the Corona crisis and a crisis can also be used as an opportunity for change, the scientists continue. For example, the First World War was a turning point for the emancipation of women, since many new workers were hired and women's institutes were founded, which led to the right to vote for women. "We hope COVID-19 can be another such opportunity for gender equality in the workplace," said Clare Wenham, Julia Smith and Rosemary Morgan. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Clare Wenham, Julia Smith, Rosemary Morgan: Covid-19 is an opportunity for gender equality within the workplace and at home (published April 20, 2020),

Video: Covid-19s Impact on Women in the Workforce (November 2022).