Pandemic adds new layers to gender inequality: UN report

Credit: Ives Ives/

The report provides insights into the ways in which the pandemic has affected gender equality.

Is there a relationship between a country’s positive response to Covid-19 and the presence of strong feminist movements across the world? A recent report by UN Women and UNDP found the answer is a resounding yes.

Unveiled in Geneva on Wednesday, the report, “Government responses to Covid-19: lessons on gender equality for a world in turmoil” tracked three specific risks to gender equality that the pandemic aggravated: violence against women and girls, women’s economic insecurity and rising unpaid care demands. 

These aspects were tracked over a two-year period by the UNDP-UN Women Covid-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, which analysed around 5,000 policies across 226 countries. It found that countries with strong social protection systems, public services and women leadership in public institutions fare better in gender equality and at responding in crises.  

Violence against women and girls

The study revealed that in the first year of the pandemic, women staged 2,711 protests across 100 countries, demanding action on violence against women and girls. It also highlighted that countries with women in public office like Fiji, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Chile were proactive in putting women-friendly policies in place to help women and girls suffering violence, women entrepreneurs and women who are in the positions of caretakers for their families.  

It not only showed variations between countries but also highlighted instances where countries employed innovative approaches to frame gender-responsive policies. “Using these variations from a research perspective for the first time, this report provides analysis on the factors that led to a stronger gender response generating key lessons for governments and other stakeholders,” said Laura Turquet, UN Women policy adviser and deputy chief of research and data. 

While 196 countries and territories adopted over 1,600 gender-sensitive measures between March 2020 and August 2021, most of these measures were restricted to the beginning of the pandemic. “About 52 per cent of all gender-sensitive measures focused on responding to violence against women and girls,” Turquet said. Apart from this, the implementation of many of these measures was also riddled with gaps and tensions, she added. 

According to the report, 163 countries also adopted 856 measures specifically addressing violence against women and girls during said period. However, only 13 countries included these measures in their broader Covid-19 response plans. “This includes countries as diverse as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Côte d'Ivoire and Nepal. Political will can go a long way even in countries with limited resources,” Turquet said. 

Economic insecurity and unpaid care demands

The study also examined the role technology plays in mobilising government-offered cash assistance to women and in sustaining feminist activism. UN Women and UNDP partnered with telecom companies across 50 countries to conduct gender-based assessments, and over 100 countries used digital tools to establish support systems for survivors of gender-based violence during the pandemic. 

While the pandemic increased the amount of unpaid care work that fell on women across the globe, the report pointed out that the focus of decision makers was rarely on this issue. Nearly 60 per cent of countries studied did not take any measure to support women’s unpaid care work. These results reflect long-standing deficits in the response to rising unpaid care demands, especially considering school and daycare closures, Turquet said. 

Of the countries surveyed, only 30 launched training programmes, rehiring schemes and other active labour market policies that had special provisions for women. “As a result, we continue to see very stark gender gaps in poverty and widening gender gaps in the labour market, with women's employment and earnings recovering at a much slower pace than men’s,” she pointed out. 

“It’s clear that the world needs a concerted approach towards gender parity in politics and public institutions at all levels to ensure that women’s voices and needs are adequately reflected. We must continue to support women’s participation and leadership in public office to ensure that a gender perspective permeates all efforts at recovery and future preparedness.”