Gender Consideration in Online Learning with a Brief Focus on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women

By Rim El Hasbani

 

The world is witnessing a huge shift from traditional learning to online learning. The start of year 2021 has yet to confirm this drastic shift. Students and teachers are adjusting their lifestyles and academic goals to fit this change.

With this new and abrupt shift, the world had little time to understand some of the challenges that online learning entails. In the previous article published, we have discussed some of the general obstacles faced by students in general and Lebanon in specific. This article, however, will discuss some of the gender considerations in the online learning community and address the challenges that it entails. This is particularly important as highlighting the challenges will help us not only understand the underlying causes, but to also address the root of the problems and work on a solution. This article will also discuss the indirect implication of the Covid-19 pandemic on women.

Why is it important to address gender issues in 2021? And how does this fit in the discussion on online learning? First, it is important to talk about gender in the online learning community as women make about the largest group of attendees in online classes and programs. This distribution applies to the programs that are designed to be online, and not the recent shift in online education due to the pandemic whereby most students, regardless of gender have shifted to online learning. Women make out around 60% of attendees who are enrolled in an online program (Reis, 2014). Literature on gender in the online learning community is controversial. Some studies conclude that gender is irrelevant to online learning (Margolis and Fisher, 2002) while others argue the opposite. Research argues that women are in favor when it comes to online learning as it creates a less hostile environment. Additionally, studying online will enable women to be more involved, articulate, and outspoken of their opinion more often. Controversially, some other literature argue that online learning is in fact non-gendered.

The indirect implication of the Covid-19 pandemic on women.

It is only fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the world drastically. It has affected economies around the world, educational institutions, companies and even individuals. Many people have lost their jobs and poverty rates across many communities and countries have increased. The following section of the article will discuss the indirect effects of the pandemic on women in precise. It is important to note that this focus does not underestimate the challenges faced by men or any other members of the society, however, its purpose is to highlight the struggles of women in precise in this regard. With the start of this pandemic and lockdown, the domestic violence rate has increased drastically all over the world, even in the developed countries. Aggression towards women has increased in an alarming way. This disturbing notion raises many questions on the systemic oppression that women face and tells us greatly about the society that condemns women and does not protect them. Globally, and even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 women experienced sexual abuse (UN women). Reports on abuse have increased drastically as well and women still reported being assaulted even when access to outdoor spaces was limited. The statistic sadly did not change with the shift to online learning or working, as harassment has also occurred online through different online platforms.

With school and daycare closures, children and students had to spend most of their time, if not all, at home. Consequently, they require additional care and adult supervision. Faced with this, some parents had no choice but to compromise working hours and reduce them in order to provide the supervision needed. In fact, women were more likely than men to quit their jobs. This is because in a hetero-normative society, women take on the role of caretakers of children and infants. Consequently, men became the primary breadwinner whereby women become more financially dependent. This could also explain the increase in domestic abuse rate as women who are not financially stable are less likely to leave an abusive partner. Additionally, those who leave the workforce, will face greater difficulties in finding employment as many businesses have been affected by the pandemic and either closed permanently or downsized its employee and staff number.

The pandemic prevented many students from attending schools permanently or for several months. Many of those who leave an educational institution or take a gap period will not return to learning. Females are at higher risk of abuse when they permanently or periodically stop school. Besides them being deprived from education, this also put them at a higher risk of domestic abuse, early marriage, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and many more as schools can be considered a safe environment for many of them.

Schools and daycare closures had yet another impact on women as certain jobs affiliated to them will no longer be needed; Jobs that are predominantly occupied by females. For instance: teaching, counselling, housekeeping, cooking, childcare etc…

Finally, most health workers globally and in Lebanon are females. Female nurses in Lebanon contribute to 79.52% of the total number of nurses (Chbaro, 2020). This puts female nurses at a higher exposure and contagion contingency. This increased risk not only affects them directly, but also has an impact on their families as well.

To conclude, the global pandemic had drastic effects on individuals in general and women in specific. In the fight of Covid-19, we must not forget the additional challenges that women and girls face in precise. Governments should take serious actions in fighting discrimination against women, protect them and create policies that ensure their safety at home and the workforce.

 

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