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Covid-19 Impact Series: The Global Impact of COVID-19 on Women’s Rights

Lauren Avis is a settler-Canadian currently studying History, Politics, and Economics at University College London in the SSEES faculty. Her area of interest in her studies is the evolution of women’s roles in communist and post-communist societies. She previously worked for the New Democratic Party where she developed a passion for decolonisation studies.

Lauren Avis


At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, WILPF UK launched their Covid-19 Impact blog series, which detailed how women around the globe suffer uniquely at a time of socio-economic uncertainty and mass death. As humanity is forced back into ‘normalcy’ despite the ongoing pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that the impacts of Covid-19 are intensified by existing infrastructures of misogyny. While WILPF UK’s Impact Series uses specific case studies to view this impact in a personalised way, this post will more so focus on global exacerbations of inequality and the need for meaningful inclusion of feminist dialogues in the recovery discussion.

With any event of economic fallout, the aftermath is sure to be far from gender-neutral. With Covid-19, we saw a significant regression of access to women’s health resources and economic mobility, increased domestic violence, gender gaps in vaccinations, and an overall lack of feminist participation in both response and recovery. It must be noted that this issue must be viewed intersectionally; those who are also marginalised based on race, sexuality, gender, and class have and will suffer uniquely and more intensely in the pandemic.


Before the pandemic, many women around the world had little to no access to necessary healthcare resources. With the pandemic, healthcare funds have been shifted to its response, leaving women’s reproductive and sexual healthcare underfunded. UN Women launched multiple surveys concluding that in Europe and Central Asia, 50% of women in need of sexual health resources had difficulty accessing them in the pandemic.[1] A similar 60% of women in East and South-East Asia and the Pacific struggled to see a doctor.[2] Of course, it requires time for this data to be fully analysed, and studies are limited, but there is reasonable speculation that Covid-19 has increased maternal mortality, potentially as drastic as an increased 56,700 avoidable mortalities.[3] There is an increased impact on women in rural communities, who were unable to travel to healthcare institutions in more populated areas due to travel restrictions. Racial minorities were even less likely to receive adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare due to the accompaniment of existing prejudices in healthcare. For instance, the Brazilian maternal death rate during Covid-19 was 2x higher in black women than white women.[4] Additionally, transgender women were less likely to access required gender-affirming services because of these shifts in funding. Even as things begin to return to normal, women’s access to necessary health services remains limited, which can prevent many from receiving crucial treatments and resources. Inability to receive routine checkups, family planning services, and knowledge of one’s reproductive health can potentially lead to a generation of women losing their autonomy and ability to plan their future for themselves. As stated before, there are more severe impacts that are already being seen; a sharp increase of preventable pregnancy complications which can even result in death.


Even in developed nations, women represent a disproportionate share in low-wage and insecure jobs. They are therefore more vulnerable to layoffs and lack of employment protections during the pandemic. Industries such as food services and accommodation,

which tend to be female-dominated, suffered immense losses. The informal sector, in which women are more likely to occupy, such as street vending and domestic work, also was impacted under lockdown measures. To illustrate, 80% of Ugandan women occupy these roles, and with a lack of capital and land, it is nearly impossible to survive economically.[5] These women play crucial roles in their community, often supplying food and materials at affordable rates while creating a dynamic social environment. It is uncertain whether these communities will continue as the pandemic goes on. As schools were shut and similar child-care services are closed, many working women had to make the difficult decision to return to unpaid domestic work. An analysis by McKinsey and Company calculates that women were 1.8x more likely to leave the formal sector, and despite only making up 39% of employment globally, made up 54% of job losses.[6] This period of unemployment can make it difficult for women to re-enter the job market and rob them of work-related benefits such as healthcare and savings. Overall, Covid-19 has potentially done irreparable damage to the global economic progress of women, pushing many into poverty and thus eliminating opportunities for upward mobility (such as education). This can disrupt women’s economic prosperity for the foreseeable future, further increasing the existing wealth disparities between men and women.


As mentioned before, women are traditionally expected to assume the primary role in unpaid domestic work, performing ¾ of all unpaid care responsibilities.[7] As many relatives become sick during the pandemic or are forced to move out of hospitals due to pandemic responses, it’s women who are responsible for taking care of them. To reiterate, women are forced to either prioritise their income over the care of their sick and/or disabled relatives and children or leave their job – this is a dangerously sexist ultimatum. The decision to leave work can possibly force women to leave the job sector permanently, and the role of carer can have immense impacts on their mental health (which is rarely studied). On the topic of women as carers, women make up 70% of the global share of healthcare and social workers, which increases their risk of infection.[8] Migrant and racially marginalised women are disproportionately represented in this occupation, which even more so contributes to the overrepresentation of minority groups in Covid-19 related deaths. The role of women as carers has largely been undiscussed in pandemic dialogues, which has devastating effects on their health and economic security. Furthermore, the pandemic has exacerbated violence against healthcare workers, predominantly female workers, and carers.


Described as the ‘shadow pandemic’, the stay-at-home orders launched at the beginning of the pandemic have led to staggering increases in domestic violence against women. While everyone can be victims of domestic violence, even before the pandemic, 1 out 3 women globally suffered physical and/or sexual violence from their partners.[9] Being forced to stay at home only increased this violence, as women were unable to avoid their partner’s aggression, which was amplified by the socio-economic uncertainty of the pandemic, as well as household stress. For instance, domestic violence cases tripled from February 2019 to February 2020 in Jianli County, Hubei province of China. The local police department speculated that 90% of these cases were Covid-related.[10] A similarly shocking statistic arose from the UK, where deaths from domestic violence had more than doubled in the first month of lockdown compared to the previous 10 years.[11] In Jordan, a country that was spotlighted in WILPF UK’s Covid Impact series, a survey found that 20.5% of the 200

women surveyed had experienced heightened abuse during the pandemic.[12] This phenomenon is in line with previous crises, such as Ebola and Zika, and is often more common in low-income environments. This data, however, only reflects the women who were willing to report their cases of domestic abuse. Many women are threatened to be silent about their treatment, and those who do report seldom see legal action being taken against their abuser. Although the restrictions were in line with public health guidelines, it does seem as though the potential threat to women was not considered.


Many rejoiced as the rollout of vaccines began early this year, indicating that the pandemic was soon to end. Many trials had equal representation of both men and women, with women dominating observational trials due to their prominence in the healthcare sector. That being said, women were more likely to experience adverse side effects from the vaccine, which has contributed to a wave of vaccine misinformation targeting women’s health. Common vaccine misconceptions include that vaccines will cause infertility or even stop women’s blood flow (there is no evidence to support either of these claims). This has had disastrous effects on women especially in developing nations, where information is often shared on social media, leading to the spread of conspiracies. Moreover, women in these regions are less likely to be literate, meaning their knowledge of the vaccine is dependent on word of mouth. For instance, in Gambia, many women are refusing to be vaccinated due to fears of infertility. This is directly linked to sexist standards in the country in which a woman’s value is tied to her ability to bear children. Additionally, they fear the common and noted side effects of the vaccine such as fatigue: many of these women are also working, and fatigue could potentially prevent a day or two’s worth of earnings towards her family. This has made African women the least vaccinated population in the world. In other areas, such as poorer regions of the Middle East and Asia, women are faced with additional barriers, such as requiring their husband’s consent to be vaccinated or simply not being considered on the vaccine prioritisation list. In rich countries, the vaccine rollout is gender-balanced, so it is evident that these waves of misinformation and fear mongering are only worsening the conditions of poor women in underdeveloped regions. Their lack of vaccinations will only further limit their socio-economic mobility as it is potentially detrimental to their health.


As more and more reports are released about the negative impact that the pandemic has had uniquely on women, one can wonder if this could be avoided if female perspectives were considered in response and recovery. After all, only 12% of countries have implemented policies to counteract the negative impacts that Covid-19 has had on women.[13] While feminist organisations, usually underfunded, have done amazing work in providing resources and support when world governments failed to do so, they should not be solely responsible for taking care of women. As we get closer and closer to ‘normal life’ it is paramount that women’s organisations play a prominent role in discussions of recovery. There must be increased funding and access to required healthcare; there must be economic support for women who were forced to leave the formal sector; there must be initiatives to reinvigorate the informal sector in which women dominate; there must be support for female carers; there must be an infrastructure of support for those who faced domestic violence. The sad truth is that if women do not advocate for themselves, no one will. That is why governments must partner with independent women organisations who will make their experiences a priority. Without that, the progress that has been made in the years

leading up to the pandemic will stagnate, or even potentially regress. We cannot let that happen.

[1] UN Women. 2020b. The impact of COVID-19 on women’s and men’s lives and livelihoods in Europe and Central Asia: Preliminary results from a Rapid Gender Assessment. Bangkok: UN Women.

[2] UN Women. 2020c. Unlocking the lockdown: The gendered effects of COVID-19 on achieving the SDGs in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok: UN Women.

[3] United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. “Tracking data on COVID-19 during pregnancy can protect pregnant women and their babies.” Accessed 7 August 2020. ncov/cases-updates/special-populations/pregnancy-data-on-covid-19.html

[4] Santos DS, Menezes MO, Andreucci CB, Nakamura-Pereira M, Knobel R, Katz L, Salgado HO,Amorim MMR, Takemoto MLS. Disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among pregnant and postpartum Black Women in Brazil through structural racism lens. Clin Infect Dis. 2020: ciaa1066.

[5] Womankind Worldwide, “HOW IS COVID-19 AFFECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS?”,

[6] Anu Madgavkar et al., “COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects” McKinsey and Co, July 15th, 2020,

[7] Womankind Worldwide, “HOW IS COVID-19 AFFECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS?”,

[8] Boniol, M. and others. 2019. “Gender equity in the health workforce: analysis of 104 countries.” Working paper 1. Geneva: WHO.

[9] Shelby Bourgault , Amber Peterman and Megan O’Donnell, 2021. “Violence Against Women and Children During COVID-19— One Year On and 100 Papers In”, Center for Global Development,

[10] Bourgault et al., “Violence Against Women and Children During COVID-19— One Year On and 100 Papers In” p.4

[11] Bourgault et al., “Violence Against Women and Children During COVID-19— One Year On and 100 Papers In” p.4

[12] Aolymat, Iman. ” A Cross-Sectional Study of the Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence, Menstruation, Genital Tract Health, and Contraception Use among Women in Jordan”, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 104, 2 (2021): 519-525, accessed Nov 20, 2021,

[13] Womankind Worldwide, “HOW IS COVID-19 AFFECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS?”,

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