May 28, 2022

COVID-19 MITIGATION: Sociological Explanation of Gender Differentials in Infection Rates

Prof. Dr. Halimu Shauri. Image: (Courtesy)

Episode 29


(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University) 

From the COVID-19 test results, it is emerging clearly that men are more in the segment returning positive results than women.
This raises the question of gender in the mitigation of COVID-19. Gender analysis is key for the success of any campaign against an epidemic and in development in general. This is because, the male and female gender behave differently.

The idea of differential behavior between men and women has its basis in many perspectives.
In fact, this is where the concept of Sociological Imagination (SI), in our immediate sister article would again be useful in assisting the war against COVID-19.

We are differentiated biologically by our sexual orientation and sociologically by our gender roles. We must therefore move away from our usual or general way of looking at humanity and employ the gender lens in understanding why men are getting more infections than females.
In so doing, we will be knowledgeable enough to design gender specific COVID-19 mitigation measures.
The question of gender differentials has one of its roots in masculinity and femininity where men are considered stronger than women. This makes men more risk takers and adventurous than women.
Thus, the high figures of men with positive COVID-19 results may as well be due to this belief, which is borrowed from religion, culture and biology.
The fact that men have to venture out and hustle while women have to stay at home and do feminine tasks within the home, may tend to cushion women against COVID-19 infections.
The other root is division of labor as advanced by the famous sociologist, Emile Durkheim in his book “Division of Labor in 1859”, where gender roles are clearly spelled out.

With regard to COVID-19 one can understand the differential infection rates by gender on what men and women are supposed to do in society, which is linked to the first root. This is to say roles are assigned in society based on masculinity and femininity.
Women are getting low infections because they carry the caring role. They take care of the home including the sick. Thus, they need to be healthy themselves to be able to perform this role.

Gender sociology. Image : (Courtesy)

Accordingly, the role of providing health care in the family is placed on the shoulders of women.
This gives them a more competitive edge over men with regard to health information and its daily usage.

These two roots gravitate us towards another sociological concept and process called socialization. This is a process of acquiring acceptable behavior in society.
Through socialization, men and women, acquire the desired behavior through rewards and punishment under certain agents: the family, school, friends, religion, and media. Thus, socialization reinforces feminine and caring behavior and tendencies to women and adventurous and risk taking behavior in men.
The outcome of socialization process is what we are now observing with regard to COVID-19 infections. Women are more likely to wash their hands regularly because personal hygiene is part of their caring role. 
“When they cook food, clean utensils, wash clothes and ensure the hygiene of the young ones women subconsciously internalize personal hygiene making it easy for them to adhere to the COVID-19 mitigation guidelines of maintaining personal hygiene than men”. 
More so, women know more than men the value and meaning of quarantine, isolation, and social distancing to the provision of care.
That’s probably why we haven’t heard weird stories of women creating havoc in adapting to the preventive measures or escaping from quarantine and isolation centres.
I would therefore advise and encourage the national command centre to differentiate COVID-19 mitigation measures for men and women.

Kenyans, both male and female under a forced quarantine. Image: (Courtesy)

The level of focus, attention and targeting of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) with regard to COVID-19 mitigation must include the gender dimension for successful intervention.


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