Compounding Other Problems Is The Silencing of Women Expertise During COVID-19


We ushered in 2020 with great joy and enthusiasm like we usually do whenever we welcome a new year. Nobody could have anticipated what was in store. Already mid-way into this year, we are still knee-deep in the COVID-19 crisis.

The tragedy that has hit us the most is the loss of precious human lives. Also, we have in a long list the problems of restricted mobility, mental health, domestic violence, the migrant crisis, unemployment, business closures, and many more. In this quagmire of grave issues, another bitter truth has emerged: that it’s women who are at the receiving end and are bearing the brunt of the pandemic more than men.

Women’s problems have been exacerbated

Domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence have been on the surge worldwide. With people staying at home, those women in close proximity of controlling men are exposed to a danger even worse than the virus.

A paper in the Indian Journal of Socio–Legal and Contemporary Affairs threw light on a very important fact. It pointed out that although helplines have been established, many women in India who are physically abused do not have easy access to a mobile phone or Internet to use the facility.

As cited in the World Economic Forum, the majority of those on the frontline of the pandemic are women who make 70% of the health and social services staff globally. They are definitely exposed to the risk of contracting the virus. Additionally, the responsibility is overwhelming for those among the lot who also need to manage their household work.

It has been observed that COVID-related job issues have impacted women more than men, for they are more vulnerable to losing employment. With the demand for child care due to lockdowns, many have been compelled to quit jobs. Those working from home are also having to juggle their professional obligations and management of their household chores.

Another glaring example of the gendered impact of COVID-19 was when the lockdown prevented women in India from getting abortions they would have otherwise opted for. It is reported that 1.85 million women could not terminate their unwanted pregnancies.

And there comes another blow when woman expertise is made to take a back seat

As though other issues are not discouraging and worrying enough, we have another news on board, and this involves the intelligentsia. The world is having the best of scientists researching the deadly virus and trying to find a cure, but it is extremely disheartening to learn that the opinions of female experts are not being given due importance or coverage.

My eyes landed on a piece “Coronavirus Coverage and the Silencing of Female Expertise” by Teresa Carr. With the title itself speaking volumes, the author discusses this inequality at length.

A specific reference is made to an instance in which veteran science reporter Donald G.McNeil Jr, in his New York Times piece “The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead”, had shown an outright bias towards male voices. Although he had consulted nearly two dozen experts, the article cited the names of just 2 female individuals. Discontent was expressed in this regard via tweets by one of the scientists.

Why aren’t women scientists getting the visibility the deserve?

Women scientists have been lamenting how research relating to COVID-19 has not embraced diverse perspectives and how they have been sidelined. The article by Carr also reported how there has been less visibility of women with regard to publications on the pandemic.

Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, expressed, “Not only are women being passed over and ignored, but also we’re getting people that don’t know what they’re doing supporting decision makers”.

A report by 35 female scientists from North America and Europe in Times Higher Education magazine compellingly emphasized how along with combatting COVID-19, they are having to battle patriarchy too. The team expressed frustration in regards to how the scientific research is being plagued by an exceptionally high degree of racism and sexism. I cite below a direct quote from the report:

“The worst impacts of the coronavirus will undoubtedly be the loss of lives, the collapse of economies, the disruption of humanitarian aid, and the decay of democracies. But we fear that the hard-won progress for women in science will be collateral damage of this crisis.”

In a time when we would expect that extremely wise and balanced decisions would be made in the scientific world, it is shameful that sexism has reared its ugly head. When we have a sizable number of female Nobel laureates in scientific fields do we need any better proof that women are as smart as their male counterparts? Without an iota of doubt, they can be trusted to make intelligent and responsible decisions.

It is extremely disgusting to see that in spite of the progress the world is making, acceptance is missing. We seem to be living in the dark ages where people have still not been able to abandon the thought which endorses the superiority of men over women. A big question looms large as to when the ray of enlightenment will spread over mankind and we will treat men and women as equals!

But I leave you with a question to ponder upon…

After dwelling on a major shortcoming where women intelligence is not given its due share, I would like to wind up on a lighter note by sharing a personal story. A six-year-old once stumped me with a question in the classroom. She asked me if women were more intelligent than men. Sometimes, kids leave us speechless, and I was definitely at a loss for words in this instance.

Totally floored by Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa that plays her favorite songs, the first-grader came up with a reasoning. She deduced that had men been smarter, the device would have been named Alex and not Alexa! As much as I wanted to say, “Here’s to girl power!”, I preferred to maintain neutrality in a class setting. As to whether you want to agree or disagree with this rationale presented by the little one, I would say that you can definitely make your choice!

( This article was featured in Women’s Web )

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