Journal Article
08 Jul 2020
91 views

Women are most affected by pandemics — lessons from past outbreaks

Nature Clare Wenham, Julia Smith, Sara E. Davies, Huiyun Feng, Karen A....+4 more
Nature
Clare Wenham, Julia Smith, Sara E. Davies, Huiyun Feng, Karen A. Grépin, Sophie Harman, Asha Herten-Crabb, and Rosemary Morgan
Global
7 mins
23 downloads
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What you'll learn
Women are disproportionately affected during health emergencies
  • This article illustrates how women disproportionately suffer from the social and economic effects of health emergencies
  • It highlights the gendered impacts of both past outbreaks and the COVID-19 pandemic
  • It provides recommendations within three priority areas: domestic violence, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), and livelihoods
  • Importantly, emergency preparedness and response efforts must be context-specific and target those who are marginalised based not only on gender but also other intersecting social stratifiers such as ethnicity, religion, ability, and class.
Key Takeaways
1
Domestic violence has increased globally during COVID-19
Domestic violence has increased globally during COVID-19
Domestic violence has increased globally under COVID-19 social distancing and lockdown measures, reflecting similar patterns in areas affected by the Ebola outbreaks. To identify where critical interventions – such as hotlines, telephone counselling services, and increased funding for anti-violence organisations – can be effective, data on domestic violence should be collected both during and after the outbreak.
2
Centre survivors in domestic violence responses
Centre survivors in domestic violence responses
Governments and researchers must work with survivor organisations, as well as use qualitative research methods, to overcome data collection challenges. Additionally, best practices should be identified and shared to inform future responses.
3
Global health emergencies disrupt SRH services as resources are diverted to respond to the immediate crisis
Global health emergencies disrupt SRH services as resources are diverted to respond to the immediate crisis
Without concrete guidance from the WHO, governments can do more harm than good – such as by banning or restricting abortions, which can lead to an increase in unsafe abortions. In the short term, policymakers should make contraceptives freely available, permit medical abortions at home in online consultations with a health professional, and develop a standard minimum SRH service package to be implemented at the onset of every future crisis. In the longer term, researchers should examine the context and impacts of reduced access to SRH services during the pandemic to enable governments and others to implement programs where they are most needed.
4
Health emergencies negatively impact women's livelihoods
Health emergencies negatively impact women's livelihoods
Most government responses to the economic fallout of the pandemic fail to account for the disproportionate impact on women. Some governments have increased the coverage or payouts of existing social protection schemes. However, this leaves behind workers in the informal economy – e.g., women domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse – who do not have access to such protections.
5
Responses to support women's livelihoods
Responses to support women's livelihoods
In the short term, governments should purposefully integrate informal and casual workers into relief efforts. In the longer term, data disaggregated by sex and other factors should be collected on the workforce. The impacts of policies should be analysed from an intersectional gender perspective so that strategies can be adjusted where necessary.

Policymakers must accept that outbreaks affect groups differently. Governments must collect intersectional gender-disaggregated data across every aspect of the national response, from incidence and death rates, social protection and employment schemes, to accessing non-pandemic-related health services.

A woman and a man stand together, in face masks, in the United States.

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    Affiliations
    1. Clare Wenham is an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
    2. Julia Smith is a research associate in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada.
    3. Sara E. Davies is a professor of international relations at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
    4. Huiyun Feng is a senior lecturer at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
    5. Karen A. Grépin is an associate professor at the School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong.
    6. Sophie Harman is a professor of international politics in the School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London, UK.
    7. Asha Herten-Crabb is a PhD student in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
    8. Rosemary Morgan is an assistant scientist in the Department of International Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
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