Throughout the spring, events such as Women’s History Month and International Girls in ICT Day have marked continued efforts to address gender inequity around the world. These efforts are in support of the UN’s 5th Sustainable Development Goal: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Such efforts address the fact that women, who represent 51% of the world’s population, still live at a legal, social, and economic disadvantage in most countries. Unfortunately, these events were quickly overshadowed by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and its sudden impact on every aspect of society. Indeed, the disease has disproportionately disadvantaged men, who are at a higher risk from the virus. In New York City, for instance, men were both infected in greater numbers and died at nearly twice the rate of women. Given these statistics, it’s understandable that the immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis might put any concerted efforts to address equity for women on the back burner.
Yet when gender issues are sidelined, there are substantive impacts on all of society, including our ability to effectively respond to COVID-19. This is apparent in the second-order impacts of the disease that exacerbate gender inequities. Regardless of geographic and socioeconomic background, women are now experiencing an increase in barriers to accessing reproductive care, more exposure to domestic violence, and heightened domestic workloads. These consequences are further intensified by the role women play as caregivers both inside and outside the home. For instance, 88.9% of nurses in India are women who also bear the physical and emotional stress of caring for family members and maintaining a household under lockdown. Thus, if we ignore the unique issues women face during a crisis such as COVID-19, we are crippling society’s ability to serve everyone’s needs, including men who are suffering disproportionately from the virus itself.
But what does it look like to respond to COVID-19 with a gender lens? It means asking questions to characterize and explain women’s unique needs, then translating the answers into service or project design and implementation. As demonstrated by the examples above, it is important to collect and analyze data on the second-order effects of a crisis that act as multipliers to inequity. By including indicators closely correlated with gender inequity in the monitoring, evaluation, and performance management components of response efforts, overall programmatic impact can be improved. This will also drive better informed policy and investment decisions aimed at ending the pandemic. In short, by maintaining a focus on gender and equity during this crisis, we will strengthen and accelerate our global ability to overcome it.