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Women have been hit hard by the pandemic – how is the government response measuring up?

Dory Olinoy is joined by her two sons while doing the laundry. The two boys, both minors, are forbidden to get out of the streets to play amidst the coronavirus crisis. Dory has to involve them in household chores for them to learn more while the city is still on a community quarantine. Photo: Louie Pacardo / UN Women

COVID-19 is hitting women hard. Without decided action, the pandemic risks erasing the important but fragile progress that women have made in recent decades. What are governments doing to prevent backsliding and protect women’s rights? To answer this question, UN Women and UNDP compiled over 2,500 policy measures across 206 countries and territories in the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker – a new and unique database that monitors policy responses to the pandemic. It focuses on measures that address three key challenges: the surge in violence against women and girls, the unprecedented increase in unpaid care work, and the large-scale loss of jobs, incomes and livelihoods. Here, we provide a snapshot of the findings.

The tracker identifies 992 measures across 164 countries that are ‘gender-sensitive’, which means that they: address violence against women and girls (VAW), strengthen women’s economic security (WES) or support unpaid care (UCW). Only 25 countries, 12% of those analysed, have a holistic response, with measures that span all three domains. Worryingly, 20% of countries analysed (41 out of 206) seem to have no gender-sensitive measures in response to COVID-19 at all.

 

Countries with gender-sensitive measures by type

 

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. For more information about the methodology, including data sources, date and limitations, please click here
Note: The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UN Women concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries

 

Addressing the surge in violence against women is taking centre-stage

The bulk of gender-sensitive measures focus on addressing violence against women and girls, with fewer measures aimed at strengthening women’s economic security or addressing unpaid care work. While Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are leading responses on violence against women and unpaid care, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the most measures prioritizing women’s economic security, followed by sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Number of countries that have taken at least one gender-sensitive measure

 

 Click on the label to see a breakdown by region

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. For more information about the methodology, including data sources, date and limitations, please click here

 

Violence against women needs to be integrated within COVID-19 response plans

The strengthening and adaptation of services for survivors, including shelters, hotlines and police and justice services, make up almost two-thirds of measures taken to respond to violence against women in the context of COVID-19. More than 120 countries have measures in this area. However, only 48 countries have made violence against women an integral part of their COVID-19 response plans, with a total of 55 measures recorded within such plans, few of which are adequately funded. This is worrying, as the pandemic will have long-lasting consequences that could potentially increase the risk of violence for women and girls.

 

Number of violence against women measure taken in response to COVID-19, by type

 

 Click on the label 'Strengthening of services' to see a breakdown by type of service

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. For more information about the methodology, including data sources, date and limitations, please click here

 

Social protection and jobs responses need to focus more on women

The tracker records over 1,300 social protection and labour market measures taken across 206 countries and territories to address the economic fallout of the pandemic. However, only 16% are gender-sensitive – meaning they either target women’s economic security or provide support for unpaid care. This is clearly insufficient to address the profound care and livelihoods crisis brought on by COVID-19.

 

A breakdown of social protection and labour market measures

 

Infographics

 

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker.

 

Cash transfers and food support dominate responses to women’s economic insecurity

Cash transfers, food and other in-kind support that target women or prioritize them among recipients have been the most common responses to the income and food insecurity triggered by the pandemic. Pakistan and Togo, for example, have used digital technology to quickly get benefits to women who are poor and/or work in the informal sector, while Rwanda has targeted female-headed households with food assistance and other essential items, such as hygiene kits. Measures aimed at safeguarding women’s employment and earnings have been less common, but include support for women entrepreneurs, informal workers and cooperatives in more than a dozen countries, including Egypt, Georgia, Honduras and Morocco.

 

Most common measures to strengthen women’s economic security in the context of COVID-19 and number of countries that have adopted them

 

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. For more information about the methodology, including data sources, date and limitations, please click here

 

While family leave expands, more efforts are needed to keep care services open and safe

New or expanded family leave provisions enable working parents to take time off paid work to care for children or sick family members. At least 36 countries have taken this step, including Chile, for example, where parents have been granted parental leave extensions of up to 90 days. Norway raised annual childcare leave from 10 to 20 days for each parent, with extra days for single parents and the parents of children with chronic illnesses. However, such leave provisions often do not cover informal workers.

Less attention has focused on ensuring the continued and safe operation of care services. Only 15 countries introduced measures to strengthen long-term care for older persons or person with disabilities, while only 12 countries took measures to ensure that childcare services continue to function. China, for example, scaled up home-based care services or temporary residential care for older persons living on their own or whose caregiver was in quarantine, while Costa Rica kept its public childcare open during lockdown to support essential workers.

 

Most common measures to address rising unpaid care demands in the context of COVID-19 and number of countries that have adopted them

 

Source: UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. For more information about the methodology, including data sources, date and limitations, please click here

 

What’s next?

The multiple and compounding challenges that women and girls face as a result of the pandemic require comprehensive responses aimed at addressing gender-based violence, the increased demand for unpaid care and domestic work and heightened levels of economic insecurity. As the crisis drags on, UN Women and UNDP will continue to monitor government responses to the pandemic over the coming months. Stay tuned for an update in January 2021.

Related story: Global Gender Response Tracker assesses COVID-19 measures for women

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