Jan 21, 2021 - Health

Fighting COVID-19's effects on gender equality

Illustration of woman carrying a large heavy briefcase

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Women around the world have borne a disproportionate brunt of the social and economic effects of COVID-19.

Why it matters: Women in the U.S. and around the world already faced an unequal playing field before the pandemic. As countries prepare for the post-COVID-19 world, they need to take special care to ensure the virus doesn't permanently set back the cause of gender equality.

What's happening: The Center for Global Development (CGD), a think tank that focuses on poverty and inequality, is launching the COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative, which will seek to fill in data gaps about the gendered effects of the pandemic.

By the numbers: The early indications are dire.

  • Data from 26,000 businesses collected across 50 countries shows women were more likely to close their businesses than men because of the pandemic and consequent social distancing policies.
  • Female wage workers have been disproportionately forced into the informal sector or have been thrown out of work altogether.
  • According to the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity's "true unemployment" metric, 30.9% of American women were unemployed as of November — an increase from October, even as the overall unemployment rate fell.

The disproportionate effects of containment measures on female-dominant sectors, the heavier role of women in child and elder care, and an uptick in domestic violence are all behind COVID-19's female recession, according to Megan O'Donnell, CGD's deputy director for gender.

"COVID-19 is not just a short-term health crisis. The economic effects of this crisis are going to far outlast the direct health effects for women."
— Megan O'Donnell

The bottom line: "We need to recognize that addressing gender inequality is not just a side issue," says O'Donnell. "It is critical to an effective recovery from COVID-19."

Go deeper