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The pandemic has hit women & girls the hardest. Here's what the U.S. can do to help.

Rosaline, a nurse in the Kakoya health facility in Koinadugu district, Sierra Leone, where CARE has worked on COVID response. Photo by CARE.

Rosaline, a nurse in the Kakoya health facility in Koinadugu district, Sierra Leone, where CARE has worked on COVID response. Photo by CARE.

Since the early days of the pandemic, CARE — and more importantly, the women CARE works with — have been warning that COVID-19 would create particular challenges for women and girls that differ from those men and boys would face.

We know that women and girls are particularly impacted whenever crises hit, and COVID-19 is no exception.

CARE has worked for over 75 years at the nexus of development and humanitarian issues. Our presence in over 100 countries — with COVID response work in 69 of them — has shown us the critical need to put gender at the heart of all we do, and the enormous return on investments when we follow this principle.

Now three years after the COVID-19 virus was first detected, the pandemic’s devestating impacts continue, and women are bearing the brunt of the burdens. Even so, the United States’ updated COVID-19 Global Response and Recovery Framework fails to consider these gendered realities.

The only way to equitably respond and recover from COVID-19 today and to prevent and prepare for health challenges in the future is to put gender at the center.

CARE’s She Told Us So (Again) report, released in March 2022, makes clear that the impacts of COVID-19 globally are worse than they were in September 2020.

CARE spoke with over 22,000 people (including 17,363 women) in over 23 countries and found that, for the women and girls CARE works with, the confluence of lingering COVID impacts and disruptions, lack of tailored response, and other crises including climate-related emergencies and the global food crisis, have made their situation worse.

Gabriela María Portillo Rodríguez is one of the many women working on the humanitarian response to COVID-19 in Honduras with CARE in the Prolempa Project. Photo by CARE.

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

In 2020, 55% of women reported that one of their priority concerns was their ability to earn income and maintain the basic necessities for themselves and their families. By March 2022, that number was 71%.

For food insecurity, the number of women who reported it as a priority concern jumped from 41% to 66%. In that same time frame.

The updated data showed that the cost of ignoring women continues to grow, and we fear that this food insecurity will be further exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine.

The world’s attention may be shifting from it, but the lingering impacts of COVID-19 are far from over.

A recent analysis conducted by UN Women showed that in the over 226 countries studied, the government responses to COVID-19 had limited, if any, gender responsiveness. As a result, progress on gender equality has stalled, and, in some instances, regressed, since the pandemic began. There are an estimated 13 million fewer women employed in the formal workforce compared to February 2020. Rates of gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence and child marriage, rose during the pandemic as a result of gender-blind responses to COVID-19, such as lockdown measures and extended quarantines.

A frontline worker in the municipality of Villanueva in the Philippines, which was the focus of contagion for COVID-19 in 2020. Photo by CARE.

Despite these challenges, women around the world remain the lynchpins of COVID-19 response and recovery in their communities. Surveys from CARE’s She Told Us So (Again) report found that 73% of women are leading prevention systems for their groups and communities, compared to 40% of men who reported the same.

Globally, 70% of the world’s frontline health workers are women, the majority of whom are unpaid-or underpaid and under-protected.

These female frontline health workers delivered services, educated communities on how to stay safe, and vaccinated communities at the last mile, even when they so often did not receive the pay, protection, or recognition they deserved.

Women and girls are central to the security, recovery, and prosperity of their communities and nations, but they need more support.

Their needs and ability to access services and resources must be prioritized in the U.S. Government’s ongoing COVID-19 response. Failing to do so risks further compounding and reinforcing harmful gender inequities including higher burdens of care work for women and girls, women’s lower participation in the labor force, and lower levels of educational attainment for girls.

When societies face emergencies, women are always on the front line, guaranteeing food and safety for their families, taking care jobs many times in violent contexts, putting families needs before their own. Photo by CARE Philippines.

In September, The National Security Council released its updated COVID-19 Global Response and Recovery Framework, which provides a comprehensive overview of the United States Government’s current approach to addressing COVID-19 and strengthening health systems. Shockingly, this framework neglects to integrate solutions that account for gendered discrepancies in impacts and needs. In fact, the Framework neglects to include specific actions with regards to women and girls at all.

The NSC framework makes little reference to women and girls outside of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts, and there is no attention given to the fact that most female health workers face specific barriers such as lack of fair pay, informality, and lack of recognition of their work, as well as harmful social norms that increased care burdens for women during the pandemic, even for those women who are not formally part of the health workforce.

The world needs the United States to do better. At CARE, we’re calling on the Biden Administration to include gender equality as a core component of its pandemic response.

To achieve this, the Administration should:

1. Integrate a gender transformative lens in developing its frameworks and protocols, including detailing the gendered needs and impacts of interventions and specific redress for barriers to access.

2. Ensure global health interventions – including legislation and funding – acknowledge and support the critical role of FLHWs by fairly paying, respecting, protecting, and training them. This includes funding and supporting local women-led and women’s rights organizations that are at the last mile, supporting and uplifting communities.

3. Give women leaders and affected communities a seat at the table in decision-making processes and ensure their meaningful participation in the co-design of global health policy, programs, and practices.

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