Moroccan women-led households have faced more difficulties in accessing medical services than male-led households during Morocco’s COVID-19 lockdown, a recent study has found.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on access to medical services in Morocco, but women heads of families have had a much harder time than their male counterparts, according to a 68-page report made public today, February 24.
Morocco’s High Commission for Planning (HCP) and the UN Women office in Rabat developed the report based on a field study that covered 2,350 households across the country.
Researchers conducted the study over two phases. The first phase, in April 2020, studied the impact of COVID-19 during the lockdown, while the second phase, in June 2020, focused on post-lockdown repercussions.
The study’s findings have shown that gender inequality is still present in Morocco and materializes in various ways and across different sectors.
“Before they are even born, children from female-headed households live in a situation of inequality of chances, which was aggravated by the crisis,” the report warned.
The largest difference in access to medical services between female-headed households and male-headed households concerned treatment for common illnesses and reproductive health services.
For common illnesses, 62.1% of men-headed families had access to medical care, while only 52.2% of their women-headed counterparts enjoyed the same privilege.
For reproductive health services, the access rate ranged between 66.8% for male-headed households and 59.2% for female-headed families.
The rate of access to reproductive health services has shown the most alarming difference in rural areas. Only 17.3% of women-headed households in rural areas have had access to such medical services during the lockdown, compared to 63.4% of male-headed households.
Overall, female-headed families in rural areas have had a much harder time to access medical care than their male-headed counterparts.
Only 36.9% had access to prenatal and postnatal treatment (compared to 68.5% of male-headed households), 38.7% accessed treatment for common illnesses (compared to 58.8%), 39.8% had access to treatment for chronic illnesses (compared to 48.5%), and 40.3% had access to vaccination (compared to 57.5%).
Gender disparities are also present when comparing the rates of access to medical services between female-headed and male-headed households based on the highest education level in the family.
For instance, only 48.6% of female-headed households without formal education have access to reproductive health services, compared to 64.9% of their male-counterparts.
The rate, however, increases to 100% for women-headed families with a member who received secondary or higher education, compared to 75.8% and 53.1% respectively for men-headed households.
Women-headed families that include a member with secondary or higher education also have strong access (100%) to prenatal and postnatal treatment and vaccination services. These rates among men-headed households are significantly lower, ranging between 64.0% and 82.4%.
The study has found that a lack of financial resources provided the main obstacle that Moroccan families faced to access medical services during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“An important variable that significantly influences access to treatment is the possibility of reimbursement of financial costs. The lack of [financial] means […] reduces access to treatment and, inversely, their availability favorizes access,” the report said.
“Women-headed households are more marginalized in accessing treatment mainly due to their precarity,” it warned.
In addition to the lack of financial resources, two other major reasons negatively impacted access to medical services in Morocco, namely fear of contracting COVID-19 and difficulties to access hospitals and health centers, such as the unavailability of transportation.
The lack of access to medical services, and the COVID-19 lockdown in general, have induced severe psychological impacts on Moroccans. According to the study, women appear to be more severely impacted by the lockdown’s negative impacts compared to men.
The report found that 36.8% of Moroccan women are “very worried” of the emergence of a new COVID-19 wave. The rate is slightly lower (31.4%) among men.
The study considered the pressure that women have suffered during the lockdown as the main reason behind their worries.
Another major issue that women have suffered during the lockdown is “crowded households” and the lack of intimacy. More than one fifth of Moroccan women (21%) declared suffering from the issue, compared to only 16.4% of men.
Negative impacts such as anxiety, lack of intimacy, and regular domestic conflicts are further aggravated among women-headed households, especially if the female head of family is the sole breadwinner.
The report’s findings highlight the importance of ensuring girls and women in Morocco receive proper education that can allow their economic empowerment.
Based on the study’s results, providing women with such a basic right would not only have a major positive impact on them as individuals, but also on their households and on the Moroccan society as a whole.