People's Stories Women's Rights

Applying a Gender Lens to COVID-19 Response and Recovery
by Katja Iversen
President and CEO, Women Deliver
May 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies around the world, it is clear that if we want to deliver health, wellbeing, and dignity for all, we need a strong gender lens on response and recovery. That’s why Women Deliver, together with our partners, has been working to outline key actions that civil society, governments, the private sector, and multilateral organizations should take to address the gendered dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis.
Women Deliver’s recommendations to Build Back a Stronger, More Gender-Equal World
Evidence shows that disease outbreak affects women and men differently, that pandemics exacerbate inequalities for girls and women, who are also often the hardest hit, and that women play an outsize role responding to crises, including as frontline healthcare and social workers, caregivers at home, and as mobilizers in their communities.
That’s why the world must put a gender lens on the response to COVID-19, to ensure the unique needs of girls and women are addressed, and their unique expertise is leveraged. This includes positioning girls, women, and young people — in all their diversity and in all settings — front and center in the emergency responses, in social and economic recovery efforts, and in how we strengthen our health systems for the long term.
And we must safeguard the progress we’ve made towards gender equality, including hard won gains for maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Women Deliver recommends the following actions be included as part of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts to build a stronger, more gender-equal world:
1. Apply best practices and a gender lens to all COVID related efforts.
All policies, programs, and investments, including stimulus and recovery packages, must be designed with a gender lens, so they don’t overlook or have unintended consequences for girls, women, and gender equality. This approach should include proven best practices such as gender-responsive analysis, budgeting, and auditing processes and a gender marker for tracking.
2. Leverage sex and age-disaggregated data to inform and shape policies and investments.
Initial data indicates that more men than women may be dying from COVID-19, and decision-makers and stakeholders need sex and age-disaggregated data to further understand how this crisis is impacting women and men differently.
This data must be collected, analyzed, and used to inform all policies and investments, and must be available quickly and widely to analyze the impact of interventions and drive informed, timely decisions.
This information must include those who may often be excluded from national data collection efforts, such as refugees, internally displaced people, migrant workers, and people with non-binary gender identities.
3. Meaningfully engage women and young people through partnerships, funding, and leadership positions.
Women and young people — in all their diversity and in all settings — must be meaningfully and authentically engaged in decision-making about their own lives and the communities where they live and work. For an inclusive and representative response and recovery, women-focused and youth-led organizations must be funded and included in partnerships, and all COVID-19 decision-making bodies must embrace diverse and inclusive leadership.
4. Protect and support those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response — the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
Women are 70% of the health workforce and are leading on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Front line responders such as health workers and social service providers must be guaranteed protection, support, and fair compensation. This includes safe working conditions, appropriate equipment, equal and emergency/hazard pay, safe housing, and access to services that reflect their needs as individuals, such as mental health services and childcare.
5. Safeguard maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the bedrock of gender equality.
In past pandemics and crises, emergency response has resulted in de-prioritizing and de-funding essential health and social services for girls and women — directly threatening their health and rights. As the world responds to the COVID-19 crisis, funding and access to SRHR, including modern contraception, safe abortion, maternal health services and safe childbirth, as well as telemedicine, must be prioritized. In settings impacted by both COVID-19 and humanitarian crisis, this includes implementing lifesaving activities that uphold SRHR at the outset of all emergencies.
6. Prioritize gender equality in health systems strengthening.
We must rebuild our health systems to ensure they meet the needs and realities of all, including in times of crisis. This includes prioritizing and funding Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage grounded in gender equality and human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Decision makers must examine gender-based differences in health expenditures, disease detection and response, emergency preparedness, research and development, and the health workforce. And health systems must be strengthened to extend to girls and women living in humanitarian settings and to meet the needs of young people.
7. Uphold and fully fund services to reduce gender-based violence.
Data show that gender-based violence like domestic violence is increasing dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis, likely worsened by quarantines and limited mobility that isolate women with their abusers.
Legal and support systems to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including women’s centers, shelters, domestic violence helplines, and legal aid, must continue to operate and expand where needed, and perpetrators must be held accountable.
This includes services for those in living in displacement settings, such as refugee camps, and preventing and ending sexual violence and exploitation.
8. Maintain equitable access to education.
Equal access to education is foundational to girls’ and adolescents’ livelihoods and wellbeing, and this pandemic risks reversing years of progress in education equity. School closures can exacerbate gender inequalities, especially for the poorest girls and adolescents who face a greater risk of early and forced marriage and unintended pregnancy during emergencies.
Closed schools likely means girls and adolescents are taking on additional responsibilities at home like looking after siblings or caring for sick relatives, which can lead to them falling behind in school work or dropping out.
All young people must have resources, tools, and social support to remain engaged in learning during school closures and re-enter the formal education system once the crisis has waned.
9. Protect women’s economic opportunity and livelihood.
Millions have lost their jobs and livelihood during the COVID-19 crisis, many of them women who are already hard hit by existing inequalities like unequal pay and less access to financial services.
Emergency and stimulus packages as well as long term recovery investments must support and protect women and marginalized people, including forcibly displaced and migrant girls and women who might not be able to access these resources due to their citizenship status.
These investments must include robust investment in social policies and safety nets for those in the formal and informal economies, such as paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, paid family and parental leave, cash transfers, food voucher and food distribution programs, and access to emergency healthcare for everyone.
10. Challenge gender norms to encourage a better balance of household duties and care-taking.
Women traditionally carry the majority of care and labor responsibilities within families, placing them on the frontlines of COVID-19 response at home. Women’s traditional role as caregivers makes them more susceptible to infection from sick family members, and increased childcare demands make it difficult to balance work and home responsibilities.
To challenge traditional gender norms and redistribute unpaid care and household labor, leaders should implement social policies such as paternity leave, social programs to encourage male engagement, educational programs in school to promote gender equality, and should model equal roles in their own lives.
We urge civil society, governments, the private sector, and multilateral organizations to use these recommendations and apply a gender lens to all COVID-19 preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. By putting girls and women front and center of these efforts, the world can truly deliver health, wellbeing, and dignity for all.

Visit the related web page

The social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard
by UN Women, UNFPA, agencies
Apr. 2020
UN chief António Guterres is calling for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a reference to his repeated appeals for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world, to focus on the shared struggle to overcome the virus, the Secretary-General pointed out that violence is not confined to the battlefield, and that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes”.
The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries. However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives.
The issue affects both developed and poorer economies: nearly a quarter of female college students reported having experienced sexual assault or misconduct in the USA, whilst in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, partner violence is a reality for 65 per cent of women.
Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details the disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health.
Offically recorded statics cite that over 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members (unofficially the numbers are likely be in the hundreds of thousands).
Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.
These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place: as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher.
Responding to the rise in violence is further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic.
“Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed”, said Mr. Guterres, “local support groups are paralyzed or short of funds. Some domestic violence shelters are closed; others are full”.
Reasons for the shortage of shelters include their conversion into health facilities, or new measures barring new victims for fear of further spreading COVID-19. As for police, they and other members of security forces are, in many instances, less willing to arrest perpetrators of violence, limiting direct engagement, or are overwhelmed by policing lockdowns.
The UN chief urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19, and outlined several actions that can be taken to improve the situation including:
Increase investment in online services and civil society organizations; Make sure judicial systems continue to prosecute abusers; Set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries; Declare shelters as essential services; Create safe ways for women to seek support, without alerting their abusers; Avoid releasing prisoners convicted of violence against women in any form; Scale up public awareness campaigns, particularly those targeted at men and boys.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said that confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health and money worries; and is increasing isolation for women with violent partners.
She described the situation as “a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors.”
Domestic violence is already, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, widely under-reported, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help, and the pandemic is making reporting even harder, because of “limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services.”
These limitations “fuel impunity for the perpetrators”, she warned, adding that, in many countries, “the law is not on women’s side; one in four countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.”
UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed also confirmed that reports from countries in every region indicate that restrictions in movement, social isolation, coupled with increased social and economic pressures are leading to an increase in violence in the home.
''Before this pandemic broke out, statistics showed that one in three women will experience violence in their lives. My concern today is for all women across the world who are suffering even more now due to the extra economic and social stresses caused by a radical shift away from normal life.
This stress is leading to an increased danger of violence. It’s clear that when women and girls are ‘locked down’ in their homes with abusive partners, they are at much greater risk than ever before.
This upsurge in violence is not limited to one country or one region. Media reports are documenting an increase in violence across the globe - from Argentina, to China, Germany, Turkey, Honduras, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States to name just a few. In Malaysia calls have doubled and in France they are up 32 per cent. In Lebanon calls to the helpline were double in March of this year as they were in the same month last year.
And the worry is that these figures only reflect reporting. Domestic violence is typically grossly under-reported. In the case of restricted movement and limited privacy, women are finding it difficult to phone for help.
So, the likelihood is that even these figures represent only a fraction of the problem. They are also reflective of countries that have reporting systems in place. The availability of data is not the same everywhere, particularly in developing countries.
We are seeing not just a huge increase in the number of women and girls being abused but also a greater complexity to the violence being perpetrated. Women who are suspected, however erroneously, of exposure to the coronavirus, are faced with being thrown out onto the street in the midst of lockdown. Abusers are taking advantage of isolation measures knowing that women are unable to call for help or escape.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of health and social services that are overwhelmed, under-resourced, and have shifted to manage the implications of the virus.
Civil society organizations which may have previously helped victims of violence are unable to operate. And the domestic violence shelters that have been able to remain open are often full; shelter managers are not equipped and scared to take in new victims because of the virus.
Everyone has a responsibility to act, from individuals to governments, business and civil society. Addressing gender-based violence must be at the center of all domestic plans on COVID-19 response.
There are some innovative actions being taken that can be replicated. In Argentina, for example, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. In France, where grocery stores are housing pop-up-services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to those women who cannot go home.
The Spanish government has told women that they are exempt from the lockdown if they need to leave the home because of abuse and both Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to counter the damaging fall-out from COVID-19.
National governments in all countries should dedicate funding in national COVID-19 response plans for domestic violence shelters, increased support to call-in lines, including text services so reports of abuse can take place discreetly, online legal support and counselling services for women and girls.
These are services which are run, in many cases, by civil society organizations, which now also need financial support.
Shelters should be designated as essential services and kept open, which may mean providing childcare to staff so they can work. It’s crucial that these services are accessible, so they should be integrated into other essential service spaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies.
In countries where the UN is providing humanitarian support, which includes some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world, we are prioritizing protection services for women. The UN is advocating with governments for the measures mentioned above to be integrated into all national response plans''.
* Policy brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Women:
* COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls. (UN Women)
Globally 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or phsyical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. Currently half the world is in lockdown due to COVID-19.
This issue brief highlights emerging evidence of the impact of the recent global pandemic of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls.
It makes recommendations to be considered by all sectors of society, from governments to international organizations and to civil society organizations in order to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, at the onset, during, and after the public health crisis with examples of actions already taken.
It also considers the economic impact of the pandemic and its implications for violence against women and girls in the long-term.
It is a living document that draws upon the knowledge and experience of a wide range of experts who support solutions to end violence against women and girls, attentive to the country context in which the crisis is occurring; released 6th April:
Mar. 2020
A week since The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and robust measures around the world attempt to contain its spread, the social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard.
Globally, women make up 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector, and they do three times as much unpaid care work at home as men.
“The majority of health workers are women and that puts them at highest risk. Most of them are also parents and care givers to family members. They continue to carry the burden of care, which is already disproportionally high in normal times. This puts women under considerable stress,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“In addition, the majority of women work in the informal economy, where health insurance is likely to be non-existent or inadequate, and income is not secure. Because they are not well targeted for bail outs they are financially on their own. This is not simply a health issue for many women; it goes to the heart of gender equality.”
Recent experience of other disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola and Zika, have shown that such outbreaks divert resources away from services that women need, even as their burden of care increases and their paid livelihoods suffer losses.
For instance, when health services are overstretched, women’s access to pre- and post-natal health care and contraceptives dwindle. There are rising concerns of this happening as a result of COVID-19.
In addition, the specific needs of women health workers are often overlooked. “In Asia, emerging findings from the health response showed that menstrual hygiene products for women health workers were initially lacking as part of personal protective gear,” said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
When households are placed under strain and in contexts of family violence, as strategies for self-isolation and quarantine are employed, the risk of such violence tend to increase. Reports from some impacted communities are showing that COVID-19 is driving similar trends right now.
The evidence is also mounting that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will hit women harder, as more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are likely to compromise women’s ability to make a living and meet their families’ basic needs, as was seen in the Ebola crisis.
As more countries and areas enact closure of schools and childcare facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19, women’s ability to engage in paid work faces extra barriers.
Globally women continue to be paid 16 per cent less than men on average, and the pay gap rises to 35 per cent in some countries. In times of crisis like this, women often face the unfair and sometimes impossible choice of giving up paid work to care for children at home.
UN Women is working with WHO and other UN agencies to leverage existing networks of women-led organizations to advance women’s voice and decision-making in COVID-19 preparedness and response.
“Making sure that crisis and risk communication targets and reaches women, persons living with disabilities and marginalized groups, is critically important right now,” said Paivi Kaarina Kannisto, UN Women’s Chief of Peace and Security.
“In Liberia and Sierra Leone, UN Women’s community mobilization campaigns focused on disseminating messaging on Ebola prevention, case management and anti-stigmatization. Through awareness raising, community outreach and training, the programmes utilized local women speaking to other women via different media, including radio and text messaging. This helped to ensure that life-saving information shared was relatable and delivered by a trustworthy source.
The approach of integrating a gender-focused response that relied on local women’s networks had a significant impact on the successful regional containment of the Ebola crisis.”
UN Women has issued a set of recommendations, placing women’s needs and leadership at the heart of effective response to COVID-19:
Ensure availability of sex-disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Embed gender dimensions and gender experts within response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into response teams.
Provide priority support to women on the frontlines of the response, for instance, by improving access to women-friendly personal protective equipment and menstrual hygiene products for healthcare workers and caregivers, and flexible working arrangements for women with a burden of care.
Ensure equal voice for women in decision making in the response and long-term impact planning. Ensure that public health messages properly target women including those most marginalized.
Develop mitigation strategies that specifically target the economic impact of the outbreak on women and build women’s resilience. Protect essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services and prioritize services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by COVID-19.
* Access more messages and resources from UN Women on COVID-19; Social media messages and assets from the United Nations system: COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement; The COVID-19 outbreak and gender: Key advocacy points from Asia and the Pacific; COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: How to incorporate women and gender equality in the management of the crisis response.
# COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement:
COVID-19 pandemic. (UNFPA)
The COVID-19 pandemic is straining public health systems, triggering unprecedented measures by governments around the world, including movement restrictions and shelter-in-place orders. Evidence from prior outbreaks shows that this crisis could exact a massive toll on women and girls.
Women are disproportionally represented in the health and social services sectors, increasing their risk of exposure to the disease. Stress, limited mobility and livelihood disruptions also increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence and exploitation. And if health systems redirect resources away from sexual and reproductive health services, women’s access to family planning, antenatal care and other critical services could suffer.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is on the ground, distributing personal protective equipment for health workers and supporting health systems where needed. UNFPA is also supporting efforts to learn more about the virus and its impact to better serve the most vulnerable.
“While fear and uncertainty are natural responses to the coronavirus, we must be guided by facts and solid information,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director. “We must stand together in solidarity, fight stigma and discrimination, and ensure that people get the information and services they need.”
Apr. 2020
Millions more cases of violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, unintended pregnancies expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (UNFPA)
A clear view of the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic is only beginning to take shape, but experts estimate the human cost could be extraordinary. The economic and physical disruptions caused by the disease could have vast consequences for the rights and health of women and girls, a new analysis by UNFPA and partners shows.
Significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.
The pandemic is also expected to cause significant delays in programmes to end female genital mutilation and child marriage, resulting in an estimated 2 million more cases of FGM over the next decade than would otherwise have occurred. These delayed programmes, on top of growing economic hardships globally, could result in an estimated 13 million more child marriages over 10 years.
These figures – produced in collaboration with partners Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Victoria University (Australia) – are rough estimates. A great deal is still unknown about how the pandemic, and the response to it, will unfold around the world. But together, the projections offer an alarming view of the future that could confront women and girls if efforts are not urgently made to secure their welfare and ensure their rights.
“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director.
The world is already seeing signs of a surge in violence against women and girls, with increased reports to domestic violence hotlines, crisis centres and justice officials.
The new assessment foresees two ways the pandemic could contribute to more gender-based violence. The first is through disruptions in programmes to prevent violence and provide services, care and support to survivors. The second is through increased total acts of violence as lockdowns keep women inside with their abusers and as households endure stressors like economic turmoil.
Ghadeer Bulad has seen both of these factors play out already. She is the director of the Women’s Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association, which works with UNFPA in Homs, Syria. “During the curfew period, I have met a lot of woman who face violence by their husbands,” she told UNFPA. “It has clearly increased.”
Many safe spaces have been closed, Ms. Bulad said, meaning that for those in abusive relationships, “the woman has been imprisoned in the house.”
She also witnessed abuse first-hand while visiting families to raise awareness about disease prevention efforts: “I saw a woman being beaten by her husband during the curfew, as the husband lost his job and the woman was unable to control their nine children,” she recalled. “One woman told me that she is exposed to intimate violence from her husband, repeated on a daily basis, since he had lost his job. I also saw a wife being beaten in front of her children.”
The world is also already seeing widespread disruptions in family planning services. In many places, health facilities are closing or limiting services. Where health systems are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, clinical staff may not have the time or personal protective equipment needed to provide family planning counselling and commodities. In some places, women are refraining from visiting health facilities due to movement restrictions or fears about COVID-19 exposure.
Additionally, supply chain disruptions are limiting the availability of contraceptives in many places. Over the next six months, stock-outs are anticipated in more than a dozen of the lowest-income countries. On top of all that, UNFPA anticipates significant delays in planned efforts to scale-up access to family planning for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations.
The assessment looks at different possible degrees of service disruptions, and different lengths of disruptions. A minimal three-month duration of lockdown, with minimal service disruptions, would leave an estimated 13 million women unable to use modern contraceptives, resulting in 325,000 unintended pregnancies.
In the most severe scenario, with significant service disruptions lasting for a full year, 51 million women would be unable to use modern contraceptives, resulting in 15 million unintended pregnancies.
“The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health,” said Dr. Kanem.
FGM and child marriage are also projected to increase, in large part due to delays in the implementation of programmes to end these harmful practices. Programmes addressing these harmful practices are often communal, involving the exchange of information and perspectives. Without such programmes, UNFPA’s analysis estimates that 2 million additional cases of FGM could take place over the next decade that otherwise would have been averted.
Similarly disrupted efforts to end child marriage will result in millions more child marriages over the coming 10 years. And because poverty is a known driver of child marriage – with families more likely to marry off daughters in times of economic stress to alleviate the perceived burden of caring for them – the anticipated economic fallout of the pandemic is expected to result in millions more early marriages. Together, it is expected that 13 million more child marriages could take place by 2030 than would have otherwise.
But these do not have to be our future, Dr. Kanem emphasized. The world can take steps to ensure continued access to reproductive health care and to protect the rights and dignity of all women and girls.
“Women’s reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs,” she said. “The services must continue, the supplies must be delivered, and the vulnerable must be protected and supported.”

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook