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Skeletons of COVID-19
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Skeletons of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us the best of humanity. But it has also brought to light many inequalities and other issues that are often swept under the carpet. Ashlee Burnett, a 22-year-old Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad and Tobago, delves into how the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected some the most vulnerable members of society—women.

A lot can happen in five months. Things you once watched on Netflix have suddenly become our reality. In December 2019, the world came to know about COVID-19. Like most Trinis, I was concerned about Carnival, which takes place in February, and what this pandemic would mean for us–knowing that being the mecca meant hosting people from every corner of the world. 

But for most of us, pandemics and epidemics are things you watch on TV from the comfort of your couch. You never really think it will hit you. Yet here we are. Five months in, around 216 countries and territories are affected by this virus.

Across the world, governments have put in place measures to curb the spread of the virus; lockdowns, states of emergency, closure of establishments, and encouraging citizens to stay at home and practice regular handwashing. 

Like many pandemics in history, we are seeing the effect shutting down can have on a nation’s citizens, especially its most vulnerable. What COVID-19 has unearthed is the inability of countries to ensure that women and other vulnerable groups are safe and can survive.

Women and girls around the world have had a very different experience to men during this period. There is a huge divide and disparity in financial, social, and health outcomes. This has resulted in a domino effect of unemployment, abuse, and poverty.

In Trinidad and Tobago for example, tourism, the food industry, and businesses in the informal sector that have been seen as non-essential have been shut down. Most of these sectors comprise workers who are women. The lockdown on March 13 at the start of ‘cruise season’ has left many unemployed.

While some governments are offering salary relief grants, workers who make up the informal sector—mostly women—are unable to access these grants because they do not pay taxes. In many Caribbean territories, women are the breadwinners. Now more than ever we see an imbalance of the burden on them within the home. 

In a webinar I attended for the Young Women in Leadership 2020 cohort, gender justice advocate Dr. Rosina Wiltshire shared that the pandemic has brought many issues affecting women to the fore. Women carry the load of cooking and cleaning in the home as well as home-schooling. Being unable to work widens the poverty gap.

Women are mainly responsible for childcare, home-schooling and other household tasks

Across the globe, while some crimes are decreasing, domestic violence has increased. According to UN Women, cases of domestic violence have increased between 25 and 33 per cent in various countries. With the lockdown, helplines are not always fully staffed and shelters—where these are available—may not be prepared to take in survivors. Abuse may also extend to financial control, as many women have to rely on partners and spouses for resources.

This period has seen a rise in the exploitation of migrant women in Trinidad and Tobago. Recently, the International Organization on Migration (IOM) highlighted a story of a young Venezuelan woman seeking refuge in Trinidad. She was being held against her will after having been recruited for sex work. Her wages had been withheld and she had experienced various forms of abuse. Migrant women are extremely vulnerable as they are unaware of their legal rights.

In January 2020, The Trinidad and Tobago Police Services set up a Gender-Based Violence Unit with the goal of clamping down on the spike of cases and incidents. While this Unit has been put in place to protect survivors of abuse, there has been no direct change or implementation of stricter measures to ensure that women and girls are safe.

Across the world, women make up 70 per cent majority of the health sector, carrying the weight of this pandemic on their backs. Being a frontline worker means being exposed to a higher risk of infection and burnout. As primary carers, women also risk getting infected as they tend to the elderly and sick family members.

What we are seeing now should serve as a wake-up call. We should examine how we treat those in a lower socioeconomic position, realize our privilege, and use it to do and be better citizens and nations.

Recovery committees during and after COVID-19 must include women and young people so that decision-making can reflect their input. Planning must be done through a gender lens, ensuring that everyone benefits from an equal and equitable distribution of healthcare, employment, and assistance where needed.

Photos by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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About me: I’m a student of English language and literature at the University of the Southern Caribbean, a poet and teaching artist with the 2 Cents Movement, and a blogger and Social Media Assistant at Bocas Lit Fest. My interests lie in gender-based violence, youth development and women’s rights. As a delegate to the Caribbean Regional Youth Council Policy and Advocacy Conference, I gained skill in position paper writing. My goal is to implement policies that ensure equality through equity.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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