Women must not pay the price for COVID-19: Putting equality between women and men at the heart of the response to COVID-19 across Europe

Call for action by European Women’s Lobby, 20 March 2020 – accessible here

The COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting women and girls who are made vulnerable by our patriarchal and neoliberal capitalist system: a system that is not working for people or the planet, and most definitely not working for women and girls. In these immensely difficult times for all people and societies in Europe and globally, the EU and its Member States must show political leadership and urgently ensure that gender-sensitive responses are implemented so that the price of these current crises is not paid by women, especially the most marginalised.

On 5 March, the European Commission launched its strategy: “A Union of equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025” setting out the key priorities to put equality between women and men back at the heart of the EU and all EU policies. This new Strategy recognises the need to integrate a gender perspective in all EU policies and major initiatives. Its effective implementation is instrumental in ensuring that the application and resourcing of special measures are targeted at women and girls who are exposed to heightened situations of vulnerability in this current global context.

As individuals, communities and families are isolated, and the delivery of essential services are limited by the current pandemic, many women and girls are even further exposed to male violence. Due to lockdown measures, victims of intimate partner violence are confined at home with their abusers, with less possibilities of seeking help without further putting their lives at risk.

We have been hearing from our Members – feminist and women’s organisations throughout Europe – of the specific impact on women and girls and especially:

  • Women who continue to care and provide for their own families, women who are the sole caretaker of their household, and those of others in situations of isolation, and economic insecurity;
  • Women who are at risk or currently experiencing poverty, social exclusion or homelessness;
  • Women who are at risk of male violence at home, or are victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking;
  • Refugee and women who are seeking asylum from precarious migration tension, especially those who are currently being turned away from facilities and are forced in life-threatening situations on the street;
  • Women who are already experiencing multiple discrimination in our societies such as Roma women, migrant women, women with precarious employment;
  • Women with disabilities and older women who have limited or no access to ongoing and quality services and/or are living in care facilities where living in self-isolation is extremely challenging;
  • Women with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression are exacerbated in this current pandemic.

As women make up the majority of those currently working in hospitals, providing essential care and cleaning services, or continue to work in retail, hospitality and education contexts that enable the rest of the community to live in self-isolation, we are reminded about how invaluable women’s care work is to the wellbeing and functioning of our societies and planet. The gaps in care provisions exposed by this crisis demonstrate once again the urgency of moving towards a socio-economic model that recognises women’s invaluable contributions to society and places care at the centre, where all women and men have equal, flexible options to balance their work and care responsibilities, and live a dignified life.

As feminists, we understand that women and girls will bear the burden of this situation and need to ensure that there is recognition for that throughout Europe’s response which must not leave any woman or man, girl or boy behind.

We, at EWL, stand in solidarity with everyone impacted by the crisis and we will continue to demand more accountability from our leaders to build responses based on care, compassion, justice and equality for women and girls.