"Women are more exposed to COVID-19 because a higher proportion of them work in the frontline care sector"

 Lídia Arroyo

UOC researcher analyzes the impact of coronavirus in terms of gender from Catalan health system data (photo: Lídia Arroyo)

Teresa Bau
Lídia Arroyo, researcher in the Gender and ICT group at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3)


Lídia Arroyo is a researcher in the Gender and ICT research group (GenTIC) at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3). Her new research project looks into how gender inequalities in the job market influence the prevalence of COVID-19 among women. The fact that a high percentage of women – mainly those with a low socioeconomic status – work in caring occupations, which entail physical contact, may explain the influence of gender on the prevalence of the disease.

Lídia Arroyo's project was one of those chosen by the Catalan Ministry of Health's Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS), which will be able to access the Catalan health system data. Of the 15 projects selected, only three, including Arroyo's, analyses COVID-19 from a social sciences perspective, and it is the only one that does this in a cross-cutting manner from a gender perspective.

What are the objectives of your research project?

The main objective is to generate knowledge on the effect of gender inequalities in the job market – in particular occupational segregation – on the prevalence of COVID-19. An open data portal will be created to provide valuable information and make it public, accessible and easy to interpret.  

What type of health system data will you analyse?

We shall analyse the data from AQuAS's Public Data Analysis for Health Research and Innovation Programme (PADRIS). This is a programme of high scientific value, since it collects a great deal of health data generated by the Catalan Public Health System (SISCAT).

The results of the research are not available yet, but how do you think the pandemic has affected women? In which areas have they been hit harder than men?

As shown by previous studies of similar infectious diseases (which are also transmitted through social interaction), both structural gender inequalities and the binary gender rules that govern men and women's social practices, mean that exposure to infectious diseases differs according to a person's gender. And, as the studies have shown, in the case of the virus that causes COVID-19, the concentration of women in frontline jobs, mainly those linked to caring for people, means that women are more exposed to the virus.

Will there be long-term consequences for women? What do you think 2021 will be like in this respect?

Research will provide knowledge about professional skills and the prevention of occupational risks with a gender perspective. We see that in caring occupations there are elements that are related to gender rules and with skills such as closeness (emotional and physical), which have an impact on women's health.  These skills are related to the quality of the care work, but they are "invisible", both symbolically and in terms of the pay these individuals – mainly women – receive.

Which measures should be taken to avoid women coming out of the COVID-19 crisis very badly?

It will be important to redefine the quality of care occupations, identifying the professional skills and their implications (such as closeness), which have not been valued by the job market, but which are those that generate the quality of the service. However, first of all, they need to be identified, assessed and remunerated. This also entails a revision of occupational risk prevention, with the incorporation of a gender perspective.

Do you think there are enough research projects with a gender perspective?

All projects should include the gender perspective in order to carry out unbiased research with scientific rigour. Taking gender perspective into account does not mean carrying out research into women, but rather it helps ensure that the research results do not only focus on part of the population. It makes sure the research is not merely limited to issues that are only relevant from an androcentric perspective, leaving aside matters, inequalities and realities experienced by people who do not correspond to the masculine, heterosexual, Western, upper-middle class model typical of positivist science.  

Barcelona Open Data is also taking part in your project. What are the implications of this participation?

The collaboration with the Barcelona Open Data initiative means a step forward in the project's knowledge transfer. This initiative is part of the open data associative network and makes us rethink the entire project, starting with the design phase: we need to decide how to work with the data and the knowledge in order to ensure it is as open and accessible to the public as possible.  This collaboration, along with the synergies with the GenPORT international project, allow for the creation of an open knowledge portal on gender inequalities in the job market and how it is related to the incidence of COVID-19. At present, through the GenPORT open and collaborative portal, it is already possible to access and help build the #COVIDGenderArchive, where everyone can consult and provide resources on gender and COVID-19.