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Gender Equity is Regressing: Feminist Researchers Need to Take Action NOW

It took centuries and decades for the world to make progress on issues of gender equity. These issues range widely from equal opportunities to receive education, to visibility for women’s unpaid labor, protection for their reproductive and political rights, and reduction of all forms of violence against women. Right now, as the COVID19 pandemic is loosening its hold, we are at the crossroads of losing some of the hard-fought fruits of gender equity in an emerging post-pandemic world.

Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken families and economies profoundly and women have been disproportionately impacted by it. If you are unaware of these gendered effects of the pandemic that put women in an even more disadvantaged position than the pre-pandemic era, I encourage you to explore this webpage created by UN Women, which provides an overview of the COVID impacts on women and girls. You may also take the quiz at the end of the webpage, using it as a moment to reflect upon what has happened to women and girls around the globe for the past two years .

Indeed, we are bearing witness to a critical regression in gender equity. If you are like me, having a female family member working as an essential healthcare worker, you know you are not alone, because women are 70% of the healthcare workers globally based on a report published by the United Nations. The same report also revealed that, across 11 countries with gender-disaggregated data, women account for 71% confirmed COVID-19 cases among healthcare workers. If you are like me, raising a child/children and struggling with supporting my child(ren)’s virtual learning while performing all the job duties, you know you are not alone, either. Before the pandemic, women did three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. A two-year mixed methods study that my colleagues and I did in Florida documented the soaring parental involvement in education in a period of time when school education was massively disrupted. More than 77% of the parent/caregiver survey respondents said that women provided the most important support for their children’s school work in the spring of 2020 in their households. For the 2020-2021 academic year, this number is 52%. Again, if you are like me, identifying as an Asian diasporic woman living in the United States and worrying about the surge of hate incidents against Asian women, you are not alone either, because Anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police in America’s largest Cities has surged 149% in 2020 alone thanks to the pandemic-fueled racism and 61.8% of the hate incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate targeted women and girls.

Of course, you may not be like me. I am privileged in some ways and marginalized in others. My job has offered me stable economic income for the past two precarious years; my age makes me less vulnerable to the virus; I live in a high-income country and self-identified as a cis-gender woman. You may position yourself differently. We know that not all women are affected the same and learning about the differences and disparities can help us all. A myriad of social, political and cultural conditions may have shaped your life differently. If you are here reading these words because you care about gender equity, because you are a feminist researcher or an ally of feminism, then let’s have this conversation: We need to shed light on and reverse the ongoing regression of gender equity. We need to equip researchers with gender awareness. We need to do MORE.

Research informed by the awareness of gender equity has been scarce in examining the pandemic and its long-lasting impact. Another report released by UN Women found that, out of 225 COVID-19 task forces in 137 countries, only 4.4% document gender parity, 84% are dominated by men and 24 countries do not have even one single woman on their task forces. We should strive to do better. We need critically designed gender-desegregated analysis to document large-scale patterns and trends in the widening or closing-in of the gender gap. We need carefully operationalized data that refrain from perpetuating dichotomous gender conceptualizations. We need to hear not only findings presented to us in a top-down manner but also voices and insights from the grassroots. We need policy advocacy, activist scholarship, and community engagement. We need hard work as well as visions– those that help us resist the impetus to accept what it is right now, or to fall back on what it used to be before the pandemic.

Together, let’s take action, NOW.

- Pengfei Zhao

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