As of 16 August 2020, among women there were 11,822 confirmed cases, compared to 7,404 cases among men. Among those aged 15-44 years, more than twice as many women than men had been confirmed as having Covid-19. There are likely to be a number of reasons behind this difference, including the testing of NHS and care home staff, who are predominately women.
As at 16 August 2020, of all deaths involving Covid-19, just under 50% of deaths were men (2,091), while just over 50% of deaths were women (2,122). 43% of all Covid-19 deaths were of people aged 85 and over.
More men than women have been admitted to ICU, and age-standardised death rates (which adjust for the age-structure of the population), were 43% higher for men than for women (289 vs 201 per 100,000 population for deaths occurring in March - June).
Measures that may help limit the spread of coronavirus are designed to positively affect the entire population regardless of sex by reducing the risk of infection. However, based on the currently available data, limiting the spread may particularly benefit men, in respect of reducing ICU admissions and the age-standardised death rate, and limiting the spread – and any reductions in the overall numbers of deaths – may particularly benefit women over the age of 85.
Women who are self-isolating may need additional support for a number of reasons.
The police recorded 60,641 incidents of domestic abuse in 2018-19. Where gender information was recorded, around four out of every five incidents of domestic abuse in 2018-19 had a female victim and a male accused. While in April 2020 Police Scotland stated that there had been a slight decrease in domestic abuse incidents, they stated this may not reflect what is actually happening, and acknowledged that people do not always report abuse immediately.
Scottish Women’s Aid have indicated that since lockdown commenced, there has been a significant increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helpline. On 27 May 2020 Refuge, which provides specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, reported that calls and contacts to its helpline had risen to a weekly average increase of 66%, while visits their website had risen 950% compared to pre-Covid levels.
Self-isolation may increase risks for women and children housed with a domestic abuse perpetrator. Qualitative research by the Scottish Government on the experience of individuals and families experiencing domestic abuse, which took place over the initial 8 weeks of the Covid-19 'lockdown', found that in some cases, victims and their children were at greater risk due to the increased time spent in isolation with the perpetrator, and many services involved in the research reported that, although perpetrator tactics have not changed significantly, the impact and risk of domestic abuse is magnified by lockdown.
Regulation 9 allows a person to leave the place they are self-isolating to seek medical assistance, or to avoid injury, illness, or to escape a risk of harm. Furthermore, existing mitigating measures are in place to help support those affected by domestic abuse. The Scottish Government’s Covid-19 guidance has been updated to reflect these exemptions and provides information on domestic abuse support while Ready Scotland’s additional support page also provides links to support for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, forced marriage or anyone affected by sexual violence. In March 2020, the Scottish Government announced that Scottish Women’s Aid would receive £1.35 million over a six month period.
Out of the 170,000 lone parents aged 16 to 74 with dependent children in Scotland in 2011, 92 per cent (156,000) were women. Due to self-isolating, women with dependent children may therefore find it more difficult to attain food and medical supplies. Additionally, women who are required to self-isolate may be negatively impacted by delayed or restricted access to abortion or contraception.
The Scottish Government is mindful of this need, therefore existing provisions in the Regulations, which allow a person to leave the place they are self-isolating to obtain basic necessities, and to seek medical assistance, may help to mitigate such impacts. Furthermore, the Scottish Government is working with abortion care providers to enable patients having an early medical abortion to have their consultation by telephone or video call so they can follow public health advice to stay at home and minimise social contact. Following the consultation, if the patient wishes to proceed the medication is either delivered to her home or she collects it from the clinic. The new approval allows women having early medical abortions to take both abortion drugs at home, where they wish to and where it is considered appropriate for them.
In addition, the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 guidance, along with the national helpline, aims to provide guidance and support for those who may need additional help.
Furthermore, the ability of women to seek and maintain paid employment may be compromised by the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.
Firstly, evidence indicates that women spend far more time on childcare than men. 1 in 4 women across all age groups took part in childcare on a given day in 2014-15 (24%), compared to 15% of men. Research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found the gap in unpaid work (activities such as childcare, adult care, housework and volunteering) between men and women reduced slightly during lockdown but was still large, with women doing 1 hour and 7 minutes more unpaid work per day than men. While men increased their amount of childcare by 58% between 2014 to 2015 and March to April 2020, they still undertook 15 minutes a day less unpaid childcare than women.
Furthermore, individuals living with children spent 35% longer on average providing childcare, which included helping out with homework. For a child under the age of 8 in the household, women spent 4 hours and 5 minutes caring for a child, compared to 2 hours 50 minutes for men.
The fact that children entering the country will also be required to self-isolate may make it more difficult for women to manage their commitments, as they will be unable to access childcare for that period. Increased childcare responsibilities can therefore have an effect on women’s ability to carry out paid work. In their report on the impact of Covid-19 on women’s labour market equality, Close the Gap advised women are disproportionately affected by the need for more unpaid care, which impacts on their ability to do paid work.
Secondly, more women workers than men workers may find it more difficult to work from home during a period of self-isolation due to their role not being suited to home working. Evidence suggests that those in lower-paying industries and occupations are least likely to be able to work from home. Therefore, as women make up the majority of lower paid workers, it is more likely that the requirements of self-isolation will have a greater impact on women than on men.
Thirdly, it is recognised that the travel and tourism industries, which includes accommodation and food services, may particularly be adversely impacted by these measures. Just over half of the tourism workforce within the sector are women (higher than the Scottish Economy as a whole), and a larger proportion of the women workforce within the sector are in part-time positions than for the Scottish economy as a whole. A larger portion of women than men working within the tourism sector earn less than the real living wage.
In their report on the impact of Covid-19 on women’s labour market equality, Close the Gap advise that women make up the majority of the hospitality and retail workforces, and that the accommodation, food services and retail sectors are impacted by tourism. Furthermore, in their briefing on Women and Covid-19, Engender comment that women are over represented in industries at risk of contraction during Covid-19, including tourism, retail, and hospitality. As a result, women may be disproportionately impacted.
In addition, the minority ethnic employment gap is much higher for women (22.0 percentage points vs 9.5 for men, in 2019). The vast majority, 76%, of part-time workers are women: in 2019, women aged 16+ accounted for three-quarters of part-time employment in Scotland.
These measures, including both the requirement to self-isolate and broader impacts, may therefore disproportionately negatively impact on the incomes, and wellbeing, of women.
To assist in the mitigation of any negative effects and to eliminate discrimination, the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 guidance provides links to work and financial support, which may serve to help women who are affected. However, both individually and collectively, these restrictions have the potential to have a greater negative impact upon women. Therefore, we continue to closely monitor the impacts of the Regulations, to see what actions may be required to address these issues for women who will be required to self-isolate.
Summary: It is recognised that some of these measures have the potential to have a greater negative impact on women, and wherever possible we have tried to put in place support which recognises the gender based nature of discrimination. These Regulations will not be able to address systemic issues of gender based issue of discrimination – however, measures in place such as the national helpline, measures to tackle gender based violence, etc., alongside existing guidance, may help to tackle some of that discrimination as it applies to the Regulations.
Provisions in the measures may help where lone parents may not be able to leave the house as they are the main carer. Again, as set out above, evidence indicates that lone parents are more often women than men. Being able to leave the home to obtain basic necessities and to seek medical assistance will help to ensure that women to are able to access basic necessities, and will also help to ensure that they are able access abortion and contraception. Existing support and guidance, along with provisions in the measures, such as being able to leave the household to seek medical assistance, or to avoid injury, illness, or to escape a risk of harm may help to eliminate harassment and victimisation for women (who by far suffer the greatest harm from domestic abuse) who are living with an abusive partner.