United Nations research shows that COVID-19 responses are more inclusive when led by women
In countries across Africa and around the world, women have been disproportionately affected by the knock-on effects of the pandemic.
Lockdown measures saw a rise in gender-based violence, and women were also more likely to stay home and care for the sick or for children when school closures were enforced, which often meant forgoing their jobs and income. However, reactions to COVID-19 have varied substantially, with some countries more responsive than others to the pandemic’s impact on women and girls.
The latest data from the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker offers some vital insights into which nations have been more gender-sensitive in their response than others. It also provides a valuable tool for demonstrating that where there are more women in leadership positions, COVID-19 responses are more inclusive.
The data shows that across Africa, 39.3% of COVID-19 response measures currently in place are gender-sensitive. This places the continent closely behind Europe and marginally ahead of Asia, where 39.8% and 36.5% of COVID-19 response policies, respectively, are gender-sensitive. More specifically, of Africa’s 54 territories, 43—or 80%—have registered gender-sensitive measures.
When analyzing this data in combination with women’s representation in key decision-making roles, a few examples emerge across the continent.
In Ethiopia, two-thirds of the country’s COVID-19 response policies are categorized as gender-sensitive; their multi-sectoral COVID-19 National Ministerial Committee task force was established by Ethiopia’s first woman head of state, President Sahle-Work Zewde, and the task force is also led by a woman, the Minister of Health, Dr. Lia Tadesse. Gender parity within the committee’s composition makes Ethiopia one of only three African countries to have equal—or greater—female-to-male representation on a national COVID-19 task force.
Rwanda has also seen success in its gender-sensitive approach to the fight against COVID-19. While the President of Rwanda and the leader of its COVID-19 task force are both men, Rwanda ranks first in the world with respect to women in government. Driven in part by a concerted effort by President Paul Kagame to improve women’s representation in Parliament, women now make up 61.25% of the lower house and 38.5% of the senate. Of the COVID-19 responses in place in Rwanda, more than half (55.6%) are gender-sensitive—higher than the global average.
And it’s not just Africa where greater numbers of women in leadership and decision-making positions appear to be related to the implementation of more gender-sensitive measures.
In New Zealand, where 72.2% of COVID-19 responses are gender-sensitive, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked closely with the country’s COVID-19 task force leaders, three of whom are women, and who led task forces with significant numbers of women on them. New Zealand ranks among the top 20 countries globally for its number of women legislators, who make up 48.33% of its parliament. New Zealand’s gender-sensitive COVID-19 policies are also some of the most inclusive, addressing economic and fiscal support, provision of health services, employment protections, and social protections, including providing support for carers and combatting violence against women.
Overall, the UNDP data provides strong evidence to demonstrate that where more women are in decision-making positions, countries are implementing more inclusive COVID-19 measures. As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic—and begins to look towards recovery—it is absolutely crucial that more women are supported and encouraged to reach the highest levels of public leadership.
The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker compiles and analyzes more than 2,500 policies from 206 countries and territories to assess what governments are doing to address violence against women, ensure women’s economic security, and support unpaid care, along with other critical areas. Learn more here.