Since its appearance in China, the coronavirus has killed or infected tens of thousands of people across Asia and has spread around the world.
In addition to the battle for health, the social impact of the virus is significant and throughout Asia, it is women who are disproportionately affected.
“The crisis is still worsening gender inequality,” says Maria Holtsberg, humanitarian and disaster risk adviser at UN Women Asia and the Pacific.
Here are five ways in which women in Asia are most affected by the upheaval.
1. School closings
“I have been at home for more than three weeks with the children,” said journalist and mother of two Sung So-young.
She lives in South Korea, which recently announced that it will postpone the start of the new school year for another two weeks, so the children will not return to class until March 23.
As of March 4, just over 253 million children in South Korea, China and Japan who normally attended pre-primary and upper secondary education were not attending school, according to the latest figures from Unesco.
This was particularly difficult for people like Ms. Sung, because in many countries in East Asia, mothers carry a disproportionate burden at home and she says she feels “depressed”.
“To be honest, I want to go to the office because I can’t really concentrate at home,” says Sung. “But my husband is the breadwinner and he can’t really ask for leave.”
Ms. Sung, her 11-year-old daughter, and her five-year-old son spend their days playing games and watching movies. She tries to do work when they sleep.
Its situation reflects South Korea’s poor record in terms of gender equality at work. In 2020, the World Economic Forum ranked it 127th out of 155 countries for women’s economic participation.
Ms. Sung heard anecdotally that some companies were cutting the wages of employees who cannot come to the office due to child care after school closings.
“Many companies don’t say that, but they still view working mothers as a burden, with a less competitive spirit. After all, if you don’t have children, you can come into the office more often,” says -she.
The Japanese government announced this week that it will pay businesses up to $ 80 per person per day if their employees take paid time off to care for their children due to school closings.
Daycare centers and after-school clubs are exempt from the closure policy to assist parents, but this has also raised questions about the effectiveness of the closings.
“Closing schools does not help prevent the spread of the virus. It only increases the burden on working mothers,” said Natsuko Fujimaki Takeuchi, owner of a small business.
“It is particularly difficult for my business, I do not get the same support as big companies for economic damage.”
2. Domestic violence
With millions of people in China spending time indoors, human rights activists say there have been more and more cases of domestic violence.
Guo Jing, an activist who only moved to Wuhan – the source of the virus – in November 2019, said that she personally received inquiries from young people living in the quarantined city about witnesses to domestic violence between their parents. She said that the appellants did not know where to turn for help.
Xiao Li, a Chinese activist living in the border province of Henan, expressed concern to the BBC after a distant relative was assaulted by her ex-husband and appealed for help.
“At first, we found it impossible to obtain a permit to allow him to leave his village,” said Ms. Li.
“Finally, after much persuasion, the police finally authorized an exit and entry permit so that my brother could drive and meet her and the children.”
While these individual reports of domestic violence surface on social media, some women have created posters reminding people to combat domestic violence when they see it and not to be passive passers-by. The hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic # 疫 期 反 家暴 # has been discussed more than 3,000 times on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.
Last week, Feng Yuan, director of Weiping, a Beijing-based non-profit organization, said her organization had received three times more inquiries from victims than before the quarantines were put in place.
“The police should not use the epidemic’s excuse not to take domestic violence seriously,” she said.
UN Women is also concerned about the possible diversion of resources with increased efforts to contain the epidemics.
“We are very concerned about the diversion of resources from essential services that women rely on, such as routine health checkups or gender-based violence services,” said Ms. Holtsberg.
3. Front line workers
Women represent 70% of workers in the health and social sector, according to World Health Organization.
The Chinese media have promoted stories praising the “holiness” and “warlike” nature of women working on the front lines as nurses. But what is the reality of these female doctors?
A video showing medical workers from Gansu Province shaving their heads collectively before being sent to help fight the coronavirus epidemic gained traction online this month. The story of a nine month pregnant medical worker who recently had a miscarriage but also returned to work sparked a huge reaction to be a propaganda show and set a dangerous precedent.
Last month, the BBC spoke to a nurse who stated that hospital staff were not allowed to eat, rest or use the toilet during their 10-hour shifts.
Although this applies to all hospital staff, women also experience another layer of discrimination, according to Jiang Jinjing.
She is behind the Coronavirus Sister Support campaign, which attempts to provide feminine hygiene products to frontline workers in Hubei Province, the center of the epidemic. She says that the menstrual needs of women are overlooked.
Write on our Weibo page, she said: “As of February 28, 481,377 vintage pants, 303,939 disposable pants and 86,400 tampons had been donated.”
Jiang Jinjing said that few people thought of providing the right vintage products to the tens of thousands of female doctors.
After the volunteer campaign was applauded by many Chinese social media, the China Foundation for Women’s Development said it would send menstrual products to medical workers.
What should I know about coronavirus?
4. Migrant domestic helpers
It is estimated that 400,000 women work as domestic workers in Hong Kong, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia. These women are increasingly concerned not only about their precarious work status, but also about their ability to find protective items such as face masks and hand sanitizers.
“Purchasing panic masks has raised prices so high that they are no longer affordable for migrant workers,” said Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of charity Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong.
“Not all migrant workers receive masks from their employers, we have to buy them at our expense and it is very expensive. Some, who get masks from their employers, will use the same mask for a week,” said one. Indonesian migrant worker in Hong Kong. , Eka Septi Susanti told BBC Indonesia.
Abdon-Tellez says her organization has started collecting masks to distribute to migrant workers, where employers do not provide them.
“The Indonesian consulate has distributed free masks, but that is not enough – it took an hour [to wait in line] to get three masks. We need at least six masks for a week, ”says Sring Sringatin, president of the Migrant Workers Association at HK.
Advice from the Hong Kong government has also caused frustration for foreign domestic workers in the city. The government has urged them to stay indoors on one day off per week to protect their health and reduce the risk of contamination.
This removes precious social time for women living far from their own families and loved ones, and puts them at risk of exploitation.
“Migrant workers who stay home on days off because they can’t go out are still working,” says Sringatin.
“They will cook for their employers, babysit or take care of the parents of the employers, without compensation. Those who insisted on taking a day off were threatened with dismissal.”
It is not only the women themselves who are affected. Millions of people depend on their income and send it home to the Philippines and Indonesia.
Filipino workers’ remittances abroad hit a record $ 33.5 billion (£ 25.7 billion) in 2019.
ING Bank Manila chief economist Nicholas Mapa says remittances from Filipino workers abroad account for around 9% of GDP, and the impact of the virus will likely be felt by the Philippine economy.
“The fact that consumers stay indoors, limiting demand for the various service industries where Filipinos are generally employed, affects their chances of sending funds. Travel restrictions and mobility are also affected, threatening paychecks and even job security, “he told the BBC.
5. Longer-term economic impact
Economists and governments are discussing forecasts that the global economy may grow at its slowest pace since 2009 due to the epidemic.
“Overall, the coronavirus has a huge impact on travel, production and consumption, which has an impact on many sectors and therefore on women and men”, explains Christina Maags, professor at the University SOAS of London.
“However, low-income women are particularly affected by the slowdown in consumption as they tend to be employed in the hotel, retail or other services.”
In China, “since many migrant women do not have an employment contract, the coronavirus means that they receive no income – if they do not work, they are not paid,” she said.
“Without any social security to rely on, they face the dilemma of returning to work and falling ill or having to pay for other forms of accommodation. If not, they could be forced to stay at home and live on the small savings that they put in a very difficult situation. “
And some garment factories in Southeast Asia, which depend on Chinese raw materials, are forced to close.
According to the Myanmar government, more than 10 factories have closed since January, although the Ministry of Labor said not all of them were linked to the coronavirus.
Ma Chit Su told the Burmese BBC that her family depended on her wages for her now closed clothing factory job.
“I don’t care about the pay, I just want my work to go back to the factory,” she says.
From the perspective of UN Women, some of the women will experience the greatest impact, including day workers, small business owners and those working in the informal sector.
“The different needs of women and men in long- and medium-term recovery efforts must also be taken into account,” said Mohammad Naciri, regional director of UN Women Asia and the Pacific.
“Women play an indispensable role in the fight against the epidemic – as health workers, as scientists and researchers, as social mobilizers, as peace builders and community connectors and as caregivers .
“It is essential to ensure that the voices of women are heard and recognized.”