UN report highlights impacts of COVID-19 on gender equality

Professor Sara Davies

The global impact of COVID-19 on women’s wellbeing has been highlighted in a new UN Women report co-authored by Griffith University academic Professor Sara Davies.

Women’s access to education and health services has already been compromised by the pandemic, according to the report Spotlight on Gender, COVID-19 and the SDGs: Will the pandemic derail hard-won progress on gender equality?

Professor Davies, who co-leads Griffith’s Gender Equality Research Network, says COVID-19 and its response presents significant threats to the Sustainable Development Goals-a set of global priorities adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate, but it’s spreading through societies that do,” says Professor Davies.

“This report showcases the latest evidence on the gendered impact of the pandemic, highlights potential and emerging trends, and reflects on the long-term impact of the crisis on the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • Among reported cases of COVID-19, 54 per cent are among males. However, once disaggregated by sex and age, older women (85 and over), account for a greater share of total cases (65 per cent).
  • Infections among female health care workers are up to three times higher than their male counterparts.
  • COVID-19 risks reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and exacerbating inequality within and between countries. Globally, there are at least 193 million women and girls aged 15 and over living on less than $1.90 a day. The current crisis threatens to trap and push millions more into extreme poverty.
  • Women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services may be disrupted as resources are diverted to respond to the health emergency. Already before the pandemic 810 women died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day.
  • Nearly 743 million girls are out of school due to closures resulting from the pandemic. More than 111 million live in least-developed countries.
  • Around 243 million women and girls were victims of sexual and/or physical violence by their partners in the 12 months prior to the survey. The figure is likely much higher since stay-at-home measures were put in place.
  • The provision of water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health. Yet, today 3 billion people lack basic hygiene facilities in their homes. Around 500 million women and girls globally are estimated to lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management. This puts women and their families at greater risk of infection.
  • The pandemic lays bare women’s precarious economic security: 740 million women work in the informal economy. Their income fell by 60 per cent during the first month of the pandemic. A gender-aware response to the economic shock resulting from COVID-19 requires greater support to women in the labour market, especially in those sectors where women make up the majority of workers, and most especially for those working in the informal sector.
  • The pandemic has also intensified women’s unpaid care workloads. A recent study involving France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States found that working women on average do 15 hours more a week of unpaid care and domestic work compared to men. In self-isolation, men are reportedly contributing more to this work, but women continue to do the lion’s share.
  • Living in slums with a high-density population raises women and girls’ exposure to infection. In 80 per cent of countries with available data, women are over-represented in slum and slum-like settings.

Professor Davies collaborated with academics from around the world on the report, including researchers from the London School of Economics, Simon Fraser University, and UN Women’s research and data division. The research is part of the Gender and COVID-19 Research Project funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

The findings have also been featured in research journal Nature.

To access the report, go to Spotlight on Gender, COVID-19 and the SDGs.

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