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As UN Secretary General releases Gender Policy Brief, CARE analysis reveals why COVID-19 creates “a perfect storm” of risk factors for women

Photo: Parvez Ahmad/CARE Bangladesh
Photo: Parvez Ahmad/CARE Bangladesh

CARE and IRC recently undertook a Global Rapid Gender Analysis on COVID-19 that uses existing global data to look at the gender impact of the pandemic. Our findings revealed that COVID-19 will have a profound impact on women and girls, and specifically on those living in poverty or those living in insecure environments such as in countries experiencing conflict, and those living in refugee or displacement settings.  

“COVID-19, when combined in countries experiencing war, poverty and instability creates a perfect storm of factors that will exacerbate existing challenges many women and girls in such settings experience,” said Isadora Quay, CARE International’s Global Gender in Emergencies Coordinator.

Indeed, as noted in the UN “COVID-19: Impact on Women and Girls Policy Brief,” released today: While it is too early for comprehensive data, there are already many deeply concerning reports of increased violence against women around the world, with surges being reported in many cases of upwards of 25% in countries with reporting systems in place. In some countries reported cases have doubled.

The Rapid Gender Analysis underscores how quarantine and isolation measures have the potential to create more insecurity, specifically for women and girls for whom ‘the home’ is not a safe space.  Further, the economic impact of the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in west Africa put women and girls at higher risk of exploitation and abuse, and it is sadly looking increasingly likely that this will also be the case in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic also.

At a time when the health infrastructure is under incredible pressure around the world, we are also seeing a diversion away from key services such as sexual and reproductive healthcare, including anti-natal care, which will have a profound impact on women, specifically pregnant women and those with new-born babies.

Despite these challenges, from our experience of handling previous epidemics such as Ebola and Zika, CARE knows that women — given their front-line interaction as healthcare and social workers, and their participation in much of the care work — are incredibly well placed to influence and help design prevention activities and community engagement. “Not only are women largely on the front line of the COVID-19 response globally (around 70% of health and social workers are women), but also gender roles and social norms in many countries will create settings where women take up a greater proportion of the caretaking of sick family members,” says Quay.

All indications suggest that a COVID-19 global recession will result in a prolonged decline in women’s income, putting women already living in poverty even closer to the edge of their capacities. This is why CARE is working closely with our partners in the countries where we work, such as national health ministries and women’s ministries, to encourage more women’s participation in decision making, while also asking our funding partners to adapt existing funding mechanisms for this response. Specifically, that more funds are made available to support the women on the front lines of this response, while also ensuring continuity of our existing programmes such as those that provide sexual and reproductive health services, and our work on gender-based violence.

As the UN’s policy brief notes: “Women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they will also be the backbone of recovery in communities. Every policy response that recognizes this will be the more impactful for it.”

CARE’s Quay adds: “Without these critical adjustments, this pandemic has the potential to trigger a landslide of secondary implications that will be extremely hard to recover from.” Quay continues: “Notwithstanding the dire need to protect the security and safety of women around the world, but potentially also rolling back years of hard-won development gains for millions of women around the world. We need international support, including innovative and flexible approaches from our funding partners at this time to ensure that this is not the case.”

The Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19 was conducted in March 2020 using desk research analysing over 60 resources of global data from (WHO, Lancet, CDC, UNICEF, LSE, and Guttmacher Institute) including mortality rates, rates of unpaid care, gender based violence, women’s leadership in health. Rapid Gender Analysis is designed to be updated as more information becomes available.


Media contact: Kalei Talwar

Press Officer

email: kalei.talwar@care.org | skype: kalei.talwar

cell: +1 808-381-6901

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