COVID-19, gender inequality, and the responsibility of the state

International Journal of Wellbeing 3 (10):77-93 (2020)
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Abstract

Previous research has shown that women are disproportionately negatively affected by a variety of socio-economic hardships, many of which COVID-19 is making worse. In particular, because of gender roles, and because women’s jobs tend to be given lower priority than men’s (since they are more likely to be part-time, lower-income, and less secure), women assume the obligations of increased caregiving needs at a much higher rate. This unfairly renders women especially susceptible to short- and long-term economic insecurity and decreases in wellbeing. Single-parent households, the majority of which are headed by single mothers, face even greater risks. These vulnerabilities are further compounded along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, class, and geography. Drawing upon the philosophical literature on political responsibility and structural injustice (specifically, the work of Iris Marion Young), I argue that while the state may not have had either foresight into, or control over, the disproportionate effect the pandemic would have on women, it can nonetheless be held responsible for mitigating these effects. In order to do so, it must first recognize the ways in which women have been affected by the outbreak. Specifically, policies must take into account the unpaid labor of care that falls on women. Moreover, given that this labor is particularly vital during a global health pandemic, the state ought to immediately prioritize the value of this work by providing financial stimuli directly to families, requiring employers to provide both sick leave and parental leave for at least as long as schools and daycares are inoperational, and providing subsidized emergency childcare.

Author's Profile

Nikki Fortier
Syracuse University

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