Mexico: The unequal effects of coronavirus


By Sol Sánchez, Governance and Democracy Associate and Gender Focal Point, UNDP Mexico

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has the world in check and Mexico is no exception. Yet the virus, despite its unprecedented scale and speed of transmission, represents many of the same challenges for women as other crises. In it, women are in the front line as health professionals, volunteers, and caregivers, and are often performing several of those tasks at the same time. They are also disproportionately affected by the lack of health care, their level of unpaid work, and the violence that exists in these spaces, whether public or private.

It is essential to analyze our response to COVID-19 with women in mind, since we can predict that they will be affected differently.

To slow the spread of the virus the Government of Mexico has closed public and private schools, and non-essential businesses and encouraged ‘social distancing’—where citizens are advised to stay at home as much as possible and when out in public to be two metres away from others.

Having children home from school places an extra burden on women. It is estimated that three-quarters of the unpaid care work is done by women, equivalent to US$ 287.291 million dollars per year or 23.5 per cent of national GDP. Also, according to OXFAM women constitute two-thirds of the workforce that deals with paid care work.

In this situation, care policies should be considered an extraordinary provision of social security for mothers and fathers who, in health crises like the present, need to be absent from their work to take care of children. This would allow both men and women not to have negative consequences in economic, and professional terms, and in the use of their time.

In Mexico, of the 475,000 people in nursing careers, only 15 per cent are men, so women are in the frontline of healthcare, exposing them directly to the coronavirus.

The security and health of first responders must be a priority. However, as nurses are also most probably the ones in charge of the care work in their homes, it is important that health systems considered permits for health workers, regardless of their gender, to leave and care for their families.

In the last 10 years, 43.9 percent of Mexican women aged 15 and over—19.1 million—have faced violence from a current or former partner. These figures pose a scenario that could increase the risk of violence.

Women survivors may face additional obstacles to escape violent situations, due to the obligation to share a home with their aggressors.

It is vital that essential services count on protocols for prevention, and control and minimizing the risk of violence, and, where appropriate, act against these contexts.

The inequalities that women face for their development are deep. Mexico UNDP appeals to the governments, civil society, academia, private sector, international organizations and families, to understand how differently COVID-19 will affect women than men. This will allow for egalitarian policies to avoid reproducing inequality and to ensure no one is left behind.

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