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Eastern Europe: Women, Girls Under More Pressure

Eastern Europe: Women, Girls Under More Pressure

A Conversation With Galina Zapryanova
Gallup's Regional Director for the World Poll in the former Soviet states and Eastern Europe

During times of crisis, like a pandemic, challenges that existed before the crisis are only amplified. Is this true for women and girls in your region? Tell me about how women's lives were affected.

Zapryanova: Yes, most of the research from the region indicates the pandemic put increased pressure on women and girls. Lockdowns and business closures brought financial hardship and loss of income for those employed in affected occupations. This had a particularly negative effect on low-income families and women employed in the service industry and seasonal occupations.

For women employed in industries that allowed remote work, employment and income losses have been less severe, but they are still experiencing an increase in unpaid household work and childcare challenges. Remote schooling is tough on parents around the world, but it appears to be particularly tough on working mothers in lower-income countries with more traditional family dynamics.

When women are expected to be the primary caregivers and household managers while also holding a remote job because of the necessity of two incomes, this negatively affects mothers' mental and physical health.

One of these challenges, we know, might be whether people think women are treated with respect. We've seen some backsliding in perceptions in Eastern and Western Europe. Poland and Slovakia are leading the world in declines. Can you tell me a little about what's going on?

Zapryanova: In addition to the traditional pandemic-related challenges, Poland and Slovakia have seen attempts by conservative political parties to roll back abortion rights and restrict women's reproductive choices.

While in Slovakia, such attempts were narrowly rejected in parliament after sparking widespread protests and criticism from women's rights organization, a near-total abortion ban was successfully passed in Poland. With the law in effect and potentially linked to the death of a young pregnant woman this past November, it not surprising that we see such a drastic drop in the public's perception of whether women in the country are treated with respect.

Are there new challenges for women that emerged during the pandemic?

Zapryanova: Extended school closures have definitely been a new challenge that rarely existed pre-pandemic. When I was growing up in Bulgaria, schools would sometimes close for one to two weeks for a "flu vacation" once per year at the peak of the seasonal flu wave. But school closures on a prolonged or cyclical basis (open for a few weeks, then closed again, etc.) are a new development since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

In some low-income countries or rural areas within a country, remote learning is difficult or impossible to begin with, so school closures can cause delays or gaps in children's education, which could reverberate down the road in diminished graduation rates or college/work preparedness. In places where remote school is possible from a technical and resourcing standpoint, then it has placed a disproportionate burden on mothers of young children to act as secondary teachers at home.

Tell me about some of the positive changes you are seeing for women -- if you are seeing any. What gives you hope?

Zapryanova: While the pandemic has slowed their progress -- only temporarily I hope -- women in the region continue to do well in educational and professional attainment. Public attitudes toward working women, female managers and female political leaders are largely positive. Women are getting things done and rightfully getting credit for it!

Lastly, when you look into the future, what part do you see women in your region playing in building a resilient world -- when it eventually recovers from the pandemic?

Zapryanova: Women will likely play a crucial role in rebuilding our post-pandemic societies. We are seeing increasing global calls by international organizations and health authorities to ensure women take equal part in national, regional and local decision-making on COVID-19 prevention and control.

This is particularly important in regions with low vaccination rates, like a large part of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, since the pandemic there may likely be a part people's lives in one shape or another for quite a while. When included in the decision-making from the start, women's experiences during the COVID-19 crisis can contribute to building a resilient society for themselves, their families and their countries both during and after the pandemic.

Read more stories about women around the world on our International Women's Day page.

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