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She Told Us So (Again): The Cost of Ignoring Women Continues to Grow Amid COVID-19

Terhas Berhe / CARE

Terhas Berhe / CARE

Far from a return to “normal,” women and girls CARE works with around the world are saying that their situation continues to get worse as COVID-19 drags on amid other crises.

Women leaders have proven to be a critical part of the COVID-19 response around the world — especially when they have support and opportunities to lead.

Women leaders are sharing information, preventing COVID-19, and using their resources to support other members of their communities. In fact, 89% of women in savings groups in Yemen are putting some of their savings to help others. In Niger, women are saying, “Now we women are not afraid to defend ourselves when a decision does not suit us. We will say it out loud ….”

However, according to CARE’s new report She Told Us So (Again), COVID-19’s impacts around the world are worse than they were in September 2020. Far from a return to “normal,” women and girls CARE works with around the world are saying that their situation continues to get worse as COVID-19 drags on amid other crises. 55% of women were reporting gaps in their livelihoods as a priority in 2020. Now that number is 71%. For food insecurity, the number has jumped from 41% to 66%.

“We are women leaders in emergency . . . we have the capacity to say: I have a voice and a vote, I am not going to stay stagnant . . . ” (Savings Group Participant, Colombia).

Since March of 2020, CARE — and more importantly, the women CARE works with — have been warning that COVID-19 would create special challenges for women and girls, above and beyond what men and boys would face. Tragically, these women were exactly right. What they predicted even before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic has come true. In September 2020, CARE published She Told Us So, which showed women’s and men’s experiences in the pandemic so far. In March 2022, updated data shows that the cost of ignoring women continues to grow. For more than 22,000 people CARE has spoken to, COVID-19 is far from over. In fact, the COVID-19 situation has gotten worse, not just for women, but for men, too.

Fati, VSLA president, poses for a portrait in her residence in Jastikum, Yobe, Nigeria.
Azure Studios/CARE

To understand these challenges and create more equitable solutions, CARE invests in listening to women, men, and people from marginalized groups to understand the challenges they face, what they need, and the ways in which they lead through crisis. CARE’s latest report represents the voices of more than 22,000 people in 23 countries since September of 2020.

“Women have suffered a lot during the pandemic, and we are not yet recovering from this hardship.”

Fati Musa

What did we learn?

  • COVID-19 impacts have gotten worse since September 2020. Women are experiencing more extreme impacts in nearly every area of their lives since September of 2020. Due to COVID-19 and its overlapping crises, 71% of women are losing their livelihoods, 66% are hungry, and 48% are experiencing both mental and physical health challenges. Those are all significant increases over the last 18 months. The situation is worsening for men, too — especially for livelihoods (73%) and food insecurity (65%).
  • Significant gender gaps persist. While impacts are increasing for men and women, the data shows that women are still bearing the brunt of the impact. Women are far more likely to lose their jobs and not be hired. Women have been less able to return to work than men. Women are also more likely than men to reduce their food intake to ensure that other family members, especially children, can eat.
  • Mental health, food security, and livelihood are women’s top three needs. Many women are asking for mental health support, with 63% of women CARE spoke to prioritizing mental health support, followed by 59% requesting food security assistance and 55% livelihoods assistance. As one woman in Iraq describes, “If any opportunity appeared, the man would be the favorite . . . This psychologically affected many women, as they turned to household work which included preparing food and cleaning only.”
  • Women in saving groups showed more resilience than women not in VSLAs. Women in savings groups are much more resilient to the shocks, and are faring better than those not in VSLA. For example, VSLA members are substantially less likely to prioritize impacts in livelihoods, food security, health services, and mental health than their non-VSLA counterparts.

What has worked to change this?

  • Savings groups. In Yemen, 89% of women in savings groups used some of their savings to help other people in their communities. Women’s involvement in VSLAs has been an important source of support. 56% of VSLAs are using their social funds to cope with COVID-19. 79% of groups are still saving, even though 45% are saving less than before. One member in Mali says “Our greatest success is that we were able to educate our members about the COVID-19 pandemic and that members respect the preventative measures… Members of our group were happy because no case of COVID-19 has appeared in the camp, proof that the awareness has borne fruit.”
  • Investing in women leaders. 73% of women are leading prevention systems for their groups and communities, compared to 40% of men who reported the same. 47% of women and 50% of men said they are responding to COVID-19 by increasing community awareness around COVID-19.
  • Increase investment in mental health and GBV services. CARE is working to increase investments in mental health services and GBV services. For example, in Nepal, CARE is working to ensure that quarantine centers have mental health services. In Iraq, CARE rolled out additional training for staff on mental health services and referrals for gender-based violence (GBV). In Mali, the CARE team is using data findings to adapt programs to support issues of GBV and women’s rights.
  • Redesign cash assistance. CARE is redesigning its cash assistance interventions to address respondents’ needs. CARE Nigeria is pioneering cash assistance specifically for women and GBV survivors to reduce the likelihood of these families resorting to transactional sex to survive. In Indonesia, CARE designed cash-for-work programs to specifically support women because our RGA found that women were facing the biggest economic crisis. CARE offices in Cameroon, Myanmar, and Madagascar are all working with new groups of people on cash transfers because of what their analyses showed them.
  • Support local partners. CARE works with local organizations to ensure they can use this data in their work, and that they have a seat at the table when decisions are being made. We also partner with local groups to ensure that these findings are helping drive resources to local groups where they are most needed. For example, CARE Thailand partnered with Friends of Women and four other organizations to work with the Ministry of Labor and the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development to propose recommendations from their RGA around increasing cash and in-kind support to the women most at risk. In Tanzania, the team co-hosts women-led dialogues in partnership with local organizations to transform humanitarian responses.
  • Collaborate with Governments. CARE’s RGAs and other need assessment findings are shared widely with local and national government partners to influence decision-making. In Cambodia, CARE worked with governments and teachers to establish e-learning platform groups to connect students and teachers and help kids with extra needs connect to e-learning opportunities. CARE Malawi used the global RGA to influence the Malawian government and eventually worked with the government to develop the national RGA. CARE Uganda has worked to ensure that women are participating in COVID-19 committees.

Want to learn more?

Check out the full report, the solutions brief, and the powerpoint presentation of key findings.

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