The Atlantic has already said it: Coronavirus is a disaster for feminism. Women are having to make hard choices between the unpaid labor of caring responsibilities and their careers. Women are more likely than men to work part-time or lower-paying jobs, making it the economical or "rational" choice in heterosexual relationships for them to take a step aside to care for at-home children, sick relatives or the elderly — passing up on hours or promotion opportunities.
This is all assuming they still have a job. Women over index as members of the service industry, one of the hardest hit by social distancing procedures and shelter-in-place orders, leading to reduced hours and unemployment for many.
There was a large wage gap in the United States before COVID-19, especially between white men and Women of Color. Not because women lack negotiation skills or gusto, but because women are more likely to work in low-paying roles, more likely to face unconscious bias in high-paying roles and more likely to forgo additional work for additional pay due to caring responsibilities or social expectations. That gap will only be exacerbated by the unfair choices women are being forced to make during coronavirus and the destruction of industries that employ women who have few choices in the first place.
Despite this inevitability, gender equality is being put on the back burner by world leaders. On March 24, the British government suspended the need for companies to report on the gender pay gap in their workforces in order to promote flexibility for employers. The path to equal pay for women's sports is being delayed by the closed court system. With the gender pay gap widening before our eyes, institutions are making the conscious choice to deprioritize equal pay or deem it less important than the other economic consequences of COVID-19, even though our policy choices are easier to control than the wavering global markets. And considering women hold the majority of the purchasing power globally, have fewer savings than men and have little reason to believe their earnings won't be severely set back by the pandemic, refusing to address the growing pay gap may cause them to feel more squeezed than ever before, causing them to consume less and stall economic growth. (Women are already more cautious spenders than men.)
Beyond its economic implications, at its core, the gender pay gap is a humanitarian issue. In a time when we're looking each others humanity in the face on a near daily basis, we should recognize its importance. Yes, flexibility and understanding, even for employers, is crucial. We should give each other room to make mistakes — unless that mistake is discrimination. Holding together the fabric of our society is more important now than maybe ever, but holding room for hope and progress is even more important.