The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated that no matter how successful America is at fighting this pandemic here at home, we will never stop this threat unless we’re also fighting it around the world. In this series of issue briefs, the USGLC takes an in-depth look at the global response and COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable populations, global development and diplomacy, and the future of U.S. global leadership. Read more from our series here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, from reduced economic opportunities and decreased access to reproductive and maternal health care, to increased incidence of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report found that “as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the [global] gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.”

Global Economic Downturn Disproportionately Pushing Women into Poverty

It is estimated that the pandemic and worsening inequality will push 198  million people into extreme poverty during 2022, reversing two decades of progress. Further, an estimated 100 million additional children have been driven into poverty – a 10% increase compared to pre-pandemic levels. This poverty surge is expected to widen the gender poverty gap with more women pushed into extreme poverty than men. Millions of women have either been forced to or have needed to stop working since the start of the pandemic, and they have been slower to return to the workforce.

  • In 2020, there was $800 billion in lost income for women around the world, according to Oxfam. Moreover, UN Women estimates that there will be 121 women in poverty for every 100 men by 2030.
  • Women are more likely to work in the informal economy, particularly domestic service – insecure positions which do not offer paid leave or the ability to work from home. In fact, women make up 80% of domestic workers, of which 72% of domestic workers have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
  • At the global level, 35% of women and 32% of men reported employment loss at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. This fell to 26 percent and 20 percent respectively by September 2021, revealing the persistent long-term effects of COVID-19 and their gendered impact.
  • By September 2021, women were 2.4 times more likely than men to report losing paid work in order to care for others, compared to 1.8 times more likely in March of 2020.
  • In every region of the world, female-owned businesses experienced higher closure rates during the first year of the pandemic compared to male-owned businesses.

McKinsey & Company reported that if nothing is done to address the negative impact of COVID-19 on women, global GDP will be $1 trillion below where it would have been had the pandemic affected men and women in their work equally in 2030. However, “if action is taken now to achieve best-in-region-gender-parity improvements by 2030…$13 trillion could be added to global GDP.”

School Closures and Disrupted Access to Health Services

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the biggest education crisis in global history, with an entire generation of students unable to go to school—more than 1.6 billion children at its peak. 870 million students still currently face disruptions to their education and remote learning cannot reach everyone – 2.2 billion children have no internet access at home. The pandemic has additionally disrupted access to critical health services and programs that support women and girls all over the world.

  • School closures increase child marriage risk by 25% per year, and, in countries where bride price is common, loss of household income increases the probability of marriage by 3%. As a result of the pandemic, UNICEF estimated that 10 million additional child marriages may occur before 2030. This increase is set to reverse 25 years of progress, which saw child marriage rates decline.
  • Women and girls were 11% more likely to drop out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to men and boys.
  • The United Nations Population Fund found that approximately 12 million women in 115 low- and middle-income countries experienced disruptions in their access to contraceptive services, leading to 1.4 million unintended pregnancies in just the first year of the pandemic.
  • The pandemic has also caused significant delays in programs to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, resulting in an estimated 2 million more cases of FGM over the next decade than would have otherwise occurred.

Increase in Domestic Violence and COVID-19’s “Shadow Pandemic”

Though reported crime worldwide has decreased, there has been an increase in police intervention for domestic violence cases around the world, and a  recent study found that that 54% of women and 44% of men reported that gender-based violence had increased in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the high incidence of violence against women during the pandemic has been referred to as the shadow pandemic.”

  • Globally, an estimated 245 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the first year of the pandemic.
  • A report from UN Women found that, across 13 countries surveyed, nearly 1 in 2 women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence since the start of the pandemic.
  • In a Save the Children survey of 25,000 people across 37 countries in 2020, children reported higher rates of violence when schools were closed compared to when attending class in person. It also revealed that 1 in 5 caregivers reported an increase in their use of negative or violent parenting methods.
  • In August 2020, the Global Protection Cluster – a UNHCR-led network of NGOs and UN agencies providing protection to those affected by humanitarian crises – reported that gender-based violence occurred at a higher incidence in 90% of its operations.

Last updated May 2022

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