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 July 27, 2020

As the predominant group in key sectors at the forefront of exposure to the Coronavirus pandemic, women face a higher risk of exposure than men. Additionally, women and girls are faced with a unique set of obstacles caused by the outbreak, including: increased incidence of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, decreased access to reproductive and maternal health care, decreased economic opportunities, and more.

As primary caregivers and healthcare workers, women are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

  • A survey of 104 countries found that women form an average 67% of the health workforce; a further 80% of nurses are women. This places women at the frontlines of exposure to the virus.
  • Worldwide school closures mean that over an estimated 1.54 billion children, including 743 million girls, are staying at home. As a result, women’s participation in work outside the home is likely to decrease, as they often take principal responsibility for children.
  • The burden of care typically falls upon women for ill family members, and this trend is even more marked in developing countries: according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), women do three times as much unpaid care work than men; in Asia and the Pacific, women do four times as much.

School closures paired with disrupted access to reproductive health services, particularly in rural and low-income areas, will lead to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies.

Due to restricted access to contraception, it is estimated that the pandemic will lead to 5 million unplanned pregnancies – of which 7 million will occur in low- and middle-income countries. Furthermore, for every 3 months the lockdown continues, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that an additional 2 million women will be unable to access modern contraceptives.

Disrupted access to reproductive health and maternal care services disproportionately affect women in low and middle-income countries. For example, according to a report by Plan International and UNFPA, there has been a 10-20% increase in the number of women who are not at all able to access family planning in Jordan due to the pandemic. In addition, the diversion of resources away from maternal care services during the pandemic could claim the lives of up to 113,000 women.

School closures and economic uncertainty are causing higher rates of gender-based violence against girls, including forced early child marriage, sexual exploitation, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

  • As COVID-19 keeps children out of school, many girls in developing countries have been taken out of school and put to work. This,combined with growing poverty and disrupted efforts to end child marriage, may lead to an additional 13 million child marriages that would not have otherwise occurred over the next 10 years.
    • In Lebanon, the second-most common form of reported gender-based violence was forced early marriage for girls, which the IRC attributes to the worsening global economic situation.
  • Since programs addressing FGM are often interactive and communal, many have been disrupted by the pandemic. UNFPA estimates that this will lead to 2 million cases of FGM that would otherwise have been avoided.

Intimate partner violence, which disproportionately affects women, increases in the wake of emergencies.

Though reported crime worldwide has decreased, experts believe that there is an increased incidence of unreported domestic violence.

The global economic downturn is disproportionately impacting female workers, and in particular, women foreign domestic workers, migrant workers, and small-scale businesses owners.

  • While the pandemic has caused job losses across all sectors, women are disproportionately affected: a UN report finds that 53% of women suffered reduced work hours, as compared to 31% of their male counterparts.
  • 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. There are currently 8.5 million women migrant domestic workers worldwide, many of whom have been dismissed from their jobs as a result of the pandemic.
  • Families around the globe depend on remittances sent home by the 100 million migrant women workers worldwide. Travel restrictions and limitations on in-person cash transfers are causing strain on this financial ecosystem.

Written by Emily Lim

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