The rapid global spread of the 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.

Last updated August 30, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, who have been found to face greater exposure and at greater risk since they are more highly represented in key sectors like healthcare. The response to the pandemic has also had unique impacts on the lives of women and girls requiring differentiated policies, including increased incidence of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence, as well as decreased access to reproductive and maternal health care and economic opportunities. UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia warned that “Everything we worked for, that has taken 25 years, could be lost in a year.”

The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report found, “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.”

  • Women are on the frontlines of COVID-19 exposure and make up 80% of nurses as well as 67% of the health care workforce in general, according to a survey of 104 countries.

School closures and disrupted access to health services are impacting women and girls.

Worldwide school closures mean that over an estimated 1.54 billion children, including 743 million girls, are staying at home. As women are often primarily responsible for children, their participation in work outside of the home is expected to decrease as a result of school closures.

  • School closures increase 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%.
  • Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, and, as a result of the pandemic, U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that up to 13 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides. This increase is set to reverse 25 years of progress, which saw child marriage rates decline.
  • Due to restricted access to contraception, it is estimated that the pandemic will lead to 1 million unplanned pregnancies – of which 7 million will occur in low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, for every 3 months the lockdown continues, the UNFPA estimates that an additional 2 million women will be unable to access modern contraceptives.
  • Many countries saw that access to contraception, antenatal care, and attended births have declined by more than 10% during the pandemic according to analysis conducted by the Center for Global Development.
  • Early evidence indicates that COVID-19 has both direct and indirect effects on maternal mortality, with some estimates as high as 56,700 additional maternal deaths.
  • The pandemic is also expected to cause 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 otherwise have occurred.

The pandemic response has led to an increase in domestic violence.

Though reported crime worldwide has decreased, there has been an increase in police intervention for domestic violence cases around the world, and Google searches for domestic violence help have increased.

  • Globally, an estimated 243 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last year.
  • UNFPA estimates that if the lockdowns continue worldwide for 6 more months, an additional 31 million gender-based violence cases will occur.
  • 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 was occurring at a higher incidence in 90% of its operations.
  • A review of studies from the United States, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, India, Italy, and Sweden found that on average domestic violence increased 7.8% across those seven countries after pandemic-related lockdowns were imposed in early 2020.

The global economic downturn is disproportionately pushing women into poverty.

It is estimated that the pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty, of whom 47 million are women, and this poverty surge will 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. A UN report found that 53% of women suffered reduced work hours as compared to 31% of their male counterparts.

  • Based on a sample of 55 countries, there were 1.7 times as many women as men outside the labor force (321 million women compared to 182 men) at the end of June 2020.
  • 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, and 72% of domestic workers have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 41% of women-owned businesses closed, compared with 34% of those owned by men.
  • Progress for women in work is likely to have regressed to 2017 levels by the end of 2021 due to COVID-19. Additionally, in the 17 out of the 24 OECD countries that reported an overall increase in unemployment, women were the most affected.
  • 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.”

Written by Emily Lim

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