Objective: This paper examines the effects of newly-emergent disease outbreaks on female populations around the world, examining the sociological ramifications that lower their quality of life. This article specifically identifies gender ramifications of historically large-scale emerging viral diseases.
Method: By comparing the top-cited literature in online search engines on the pandemics of 1918 Spanish Influenza, 2014/15 Ebola, and 2019-20 COVID-19, this analysis attempts to identify common risk factors and experiences that primarily affect women. A literature review is performed on the most prominent research applying a gender lens on the direct effects these emerging diseases have on women and girls, particularly during outbreak and spread, and into recovery phases. The article assesses for physical and mental health effects, as well as socio-economic effects, and other factors affecting quality of life, commonly in the literature.
Background: Much scholarship on the impacts of diseases indicates that women and girls are often have unique risks of being infected, as well as undergoing greater hardships in their daily lives, leading to psychosocial, physical, and socio-economic harm. While there is some literature on gendered risk factors of disease, there is a limited understanding of how large-scale pandemics involving emergent viral diseases can lower the quality of life for women.
Results: Emergent diseases often can lead to large breakdowns in public health systems, the direct and indirect results often cascade to marginalized or vulnerable sub-populations including women. While women have lower infection and death rates than men, they often face physical risks like pregnancy that can increase their risk of death or prolonged physical issues if infected, although data on female physical effects is limited. Secondly, women often are the first primary caregivers of infected people, and thus have specific risks of exposure affecting their financial and psychosocial wellbeing, often as they hold care roles with less health training and adequate medical protective gear. Critical factors affecting women’s risk to disease exposure in emerging outbreaks is knowledge and access to information about the disease and infection control practices. In disease-affected homes and communities, women tend to survive diseases at higher rates, but as survivors, they suffer greater psychosocial trauma, isolation, and economic instability during and after an outbreak.
Conclusion: The comparative literature review implies common gendered variables that are historical trends in emerging pandemics. Outbreaks of new diseases can have direct and secondary effects on individual women’s physical, psychosocial, and economic safety as well as her social network involving family and community. Societal gender norms fuel risk factors targeting female populations in disease-affected households and communities. These roles often implicate women as the primary caregiver to those affected, frequently in vulnerable care positions like nursing in healthcare facilities or at home, with limited training and proper protective equipment. They are also the first to give up employment for home duties when disease strikes. Severe gender-biases in medical research including lack of data on how diseases affect female populations further hinder adequately documenting gendered effects. At a time when disease outbreaks are growing around the world, understanding the effects that pandemics can have on vulnerable populations can help better inform policy and programming that can alleviate and even mitigate these negative consequences, and help support female populations to have a better fighting chance against disease.