Barbara Verdade de Aquino Carvalho, FGV-EAESP Winner of the CoBS 2021 CSR competition, explores how the pandemic has weakened preconceptions on the role of women and strengthened their legitimacy for equal opportunity.
2020 started off as a completely atypical year. Children expected it to be another year to meet their friends and play while showing their tablets and exchanging filters on Instagram. Adolescents thought it would be another year for focusing on books and grades. Men were focused on their careers and women did not see another option besides continuing their daily jobs and fighting for equality while being mothers, employees and entrepreneurs. However, the COVlD-19 pandemic changed previous perceptions – specially gender related ones, revealing women’s crucial roles in society. Social media bears the main responsible for this change of impression – but what are the aspects covered by this change?
Seen as leaders
lf the coronavirus spread caught the whole world off guard, country leaders were certainly one of the cases in which the surprise had to be put aside and dealt with, with just as much speed as the spread of the virus. With announcements of cases occurring in different comers of the globe, action was expected. People had their eyes watching leaders’ every step to understand what action would occur to fight and mitigate the advance of the new disease. ln this process, some names began appearing on the news non-stop, such as Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. The PM caught attention by her speeches with concern and humanity contained in them, but also by the affirmative and strict tone that ordered lockdown measures and the closure of borders. While led by a woman, New Zealand’s tough policies had greateffect in avoiding the spread of the virus and guaranteeing the well-being of the population.
Women should be viewed as people who have the same capacities as any other, and who can get the job done.
There is no doubt that factors such as type of regime, governance system and size of country influence the effectiveness of the leadership in current times . However, the greatness with which female leaders dealt with the health crisis is also undeniable. But why just see it now? The moment came when society was fragile with a disease that was killing thousands of people, and feminine traits of being nurturing and trustworthy, combined with their tendency for preventive action and resilience. This context provided an opportunity for women to be seen as strong, communicative, caring and safe leaders. They had a chance to put into practice who they were and show that show that they were as equal as, or even better than, men.
Seen as heroes
There is an image that was certainly repeated in hospitals all around the world during the pandemic. lt shows doctors and nurses all suited up with their individual protection equipment holding sheets of papers on which was written the following phrase: We stay here for you, please stay home for us. All of these pictures have one thing in common: in all of them there are several women. According to the United Nations , 70% of health and social care workforce are women. They are doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers. They already had important roles that increased in value with the pandemic as they became responsible for dealing directly with patients infected with the virus, putting their lives in danger, and having to be distant from their families and friends. Their importance grew more than anyone else since they were at the center of everything. These women have daily shown their braveness, courage and determination to change a situation and fight for people, and in numbers they certainly showed how they grew in importance in the health sector. Their role in both hospitals and society is critical in a pandemic situation. In this specific case, they showed how jobs considered feminine – such as nursing – commonly taken for granted and put aside, were extremely significant when fighting the virus. This may well open a precedent for other professions.
Seen as magicians
As lockdown and social distancing started being implemented, businesses had to find a way of surviving, and they did so by adopting remote work. Working remotely came with both positive and negative aspects. As time spent travelling decreased considerably, working times increased for both office hours and home hours. The house – occupied for the whole day, coexistence with children, and the necessity of more frequent chores became a new reality to which people had to get acquainted with. However, those who truly had to adapt to this new way of living were mostly men. Why? Because women knew and know exactly how it feels, and how tiring it is, to end one shift and go to another. Women are familiarized with the double journey of ending their business day and getting home to start their family and home shift, in which they need to take care of their children, and in some cases care for their husbands, do their house duties, take care of themselves and prepare for the following day. What happened was that when the new coronavirus hit and everybody in households had the same routine, the first reaction was of shock, thinking about the reality and capacity of women in dealing with such a number of responsibilities and still managing to do everything. It’s almost like magic.
Will the new vision be a permanent sequel?
The doubt that remains is if this new vision brought by the COVID-19 pandemic will became a new perception and stay with people; or if reality gets back to what it was before with people continuing to ignore women’s strength and capacity for doing exactly same things as the opposite sex. The pandemic hit and increased years of inequality, bringing unemployment and widening the gap between men and women in different sectors of society . To counterbalance this negative trend, women gained more visibility and more attention during this period and it could be considered an example of success. They showed how their beliefs were converted into actions and made a change ln a time were society needed it the most. ln the internal environments – their houses – they could teach and be examples of how determination and disposition are the key to getting things done. Nonetheless, calling women heroes and magicians makes them seem extraordinary – and that is where the problem lies. Women should not be viewed as extraordinary. Even though the number of assignments they daily have could deserve such an adjective, they should simply be viewed as people who have the same capacities as any other, and who can get the job done. At least, in this sense, the coronavirus has cleared the picture. Hopefully, for society it will be permanent, and the vision will stay clear to the capacity women have and their legitimacy to opportunity.
 Windsor LC, Y anniteU Reinhardt G, Windsor AJ, Ostergard R, Allen S, Burns C, et ai. (2020) Gender in thc time of COVID-19: valuating national leadership and COVID-19 fa1.11ities. PLoS ONE 1 S( 12): e0244.53 l. hll ps:1,doi .org l O. 13 71 tjoum:tl .pon~ .0244 53 l
 https://www.1111women.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sectionsllibrary/publications/2020/gendcr-equality-in-the-wakc-of-covid-19-en.pdf71a=en&vs: .5 J42
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