Any discussion about the impact of COVID-19 on the population must include a spotlight on the disturbing toll which the pandemic is taking on women and children.
One year into this global plague, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel, with the production of a raft of vaccines aimed at protecting populations from the worst clinical effects of the deadly COVID-19 viral infection, and the disease’s spread.
Life since the appearance of COVID-19 has been dramatically altered, no more so than for women, who, in Barbados, are overwhelmingly the heads of most households.
It was interesting to hear the very legalistic response from our Attorney General, Dale Marshall, to a question from the media about the status of parental visits that were ordered by the courts, in the face of the pandemic.
Rightly, the Government’s chief legal advisor made it clear that the pandemic should not usurp the orders of the island’s court system, and if a judge has ordered that a parent is allowed to have custody of a child during a particular period, then those instructions should be followed to the letter of the law.
But as one caller to a popular radio programme pointed out in reaction to the Attorney General’s statement, women in such circumstances ought to be able to take steps to protect themselves and their households. They, therefore, should not be subjected to additional risks caused by children going back and forth between households.
This is a real-life example of the challenges that have emerged during this pandemic, that have tended to affect women, who remain the primary caregivers.
In the current context, it remains important that there be adequate data collection on the pandemic’s effects. One instance in which statistics would be extremely meaningful, is in the release of official unemployment numbers.
It is disturbing that an entire calendar year has passed, and no official unemployment statistics have been released for 2020. How are economic and social planners expected to adequately address the issues facing women and children, when there is a paucity of statistics? This situation is not only with the unemployment numbers, but also on an endless list of matters that have emerged from the financial and public health shock.
For instance, we have observed over the past year, worrying reports of suicides among young people, with one occurring just two days ago. Where are those numbers to be found, and has there been any kind of mining to determine to what have these suicides been linked?
Where is the information to determine what percentage of women who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, were heads of households, and how have they been coping?
We contend that the state could have incorporated some kind of statistical gathering from those who applied and or received the 60 000 care packages, to support them during this difficult economic time. What percentage of those recipients were women or elderly, and how many people in their households benefited from this state assistance?
The decision to prepare 60 000 packages would have been based on statistic from some department or agency, and it would be useful if the ministry responsible, would share that information with the public.
It is not enough for the Government’s economic advisors to suggest that unemployment may be around 25 per cent. Or for the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, to present his 2020 review of the economy, without tracking unemployment from quarter to quarter.
How long will this situation continue?
We say that this is a most untenable circumstance. We are aware from anecdotal information, that women represented the bulk of those persons who found themselves on the breadline, when our tourism sector crashed.
Occupancy levels in hotels have fallen 93 per cent in January when compared to the same period in 2020, according to the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).
Yes. We are not oblivious to the plight of men who have lost their jobs; however, it has long been established that when women face poverty and unemployment, the effect transcends to their children and households in debilitating ways.
In fact, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was so concerned about the situation, that it has redirected US$12 billion from other proposed projects, to directly respond to the COVID-19 crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The institution found that the pandemic was having different effects on men and women.
For example, it said job losses have been more prevalent amongst single females, whilst business closures have been more prevalent amongst single males. The quality of life also seems to have worsened more for single females, the IDB noted, than for single males and partners in married or common-law relationship.
Even more telling was the disclosure that domestic violence against women has been on the rise. Important too, was the IDB’s commentary that: “Although the coverage of social assistance programmes has increased substantially during the pandemic, we find that more targeting of households with single females could be beneficial, particularly as they show lower levels of financial resilience.”
The IDB stressed: “We recommend . . . the collection of gender-disaggregated data that will allow for more thorough investigation of the gender effects of these types of shocks.”