COVID-19: Is It Gender-Blind? Shall The Response Be Gender-Blind Too?


Blogpost on COVID-19 and gender equality by Olga Bezbozhha, Programme Officer at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute

The provisional analysis of a sex-disaggregated COVID-19 cases indicates that the virus is as widespread amongst women (47%), as amongst men (52%) [Women Count Data].

“The virus does not discriminate!”, as many would say and write on this topic.

Nevertheless, the consequences of the virus are definitely having different consequences on various gender groups. People are affected in various ways, since they live in different social and economic conditions and realities.

Health-care workers

In many countries, women dominate as a first help health-workers (ex. nurses, social services, volunteers, etc).  Infections of health-care workers based on sex is disproportionate in many countries.

E.g. in Italy, 66% of female health-care workers were infected, compared to 34% males. In Spain, the divide is even deeper. 71,8% of women and 28,2% of the men. [Women Count Data], as of beginning of April 2020].

Death rates

Based on the analysis of fourteen selected countries (as of April 4, 2020), the death rate of COVID-19 amongst men is slightly higher than for women (approximately 60% men and 40% women).

Health institutions capacities and traditional care-work expectation

Care-work is still considered to be a female job in many countries around the world. In light of the overload of many health institutions, the care-work for sick people (due to both COVID-19 and other illnesses) is mainly expected to be carried out by women.

This exposes women to a greater risk of infection. It also deepens the economic scrutiny. The overload of our health institutions also have an effect on prenatal and maternal care services.

Child care

With schools closing, and children staying at home, parents find themselves in a position trying to work with children at home, or take a sick leave and lose the income. The closing of schools puts a pressure on women, who are traditionally considered as the primary care-takers in many societies.

The situation is also severe for single parent, potentially losing their income as a result of the corona crisis. Bearing the responsibility and the economic consequences of caring for a child at home 24/7 can be hard.

As an example, the single parents’ association in Sweden (Makalösa Föräldrar) recently showed that single parents are struggling to provide two snacks and two meals (breakfast and lunch) when at home. Under normal circumstances, the child would otherwise eat at school  [Coronakrisen: Malalösa Föräldrar].

Domestic and gender-based violence

It is well known that domestic and gender-based violence increase during conditions of stress and in other situations when families spend more time together. Normally this be during holidays, in these times it is the consequences of quarantine or lockdowns.

UN data reveals that reports of domestic violence in France has increased with 30 percent since the country’s lockdown on March 17. During the first two weeks of lockdowns in Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 percent more calls. Help lines in Singapore have received 30 percent more calls [UN Women].

These issues are becoming even greater due to the fact that societal resources are allocated to other areas, and police, health and social services cannot treat the cases of domestic violence with necessary attention.

Stereotypes and economic opportunities

As the world is moving into an economic crisis, and many people of all sexes are already losing their jobs , it is necessary to study the problem through a gender lens as to who will be affected and how.

Many stereotypes can appear and scrutinize women in this uncertain time. “A man is a bread winner and shall be given a priority to keep the work” is an example of such a stereotype. Such harmful stereotypes must be confronted and dispelled.

Gender-sensitive response

This post has highlighted only a few areas, where effects of COVID-19 play different for representatives of different genders. There are many more.

In order to address COVID-19 and its consequences in the most effective way, it is necessary to understand how it is affecting different gender groups and collect data in a sex- and gender-disaggregated manner.

Awareness raising around gender dimension of COVID-19 and its consequences will also strengthen societies’ capacities and resilience to face the challenges of this pandemic, and, eventually, to overcome them.

Note: Some numerical data for this post was taken from the project Women Count, which aggregates various sources, ex. Global Health 50/50,  UN Women, John Hopkins CSSE, etc. However, it is necessary to indicate that the number of cases indicated in the sources may not reflect the current number. All numbers should be interpreted with caution.

Best regards,

Olga Bezbozhha
Programme Officer, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute