Five Actions Governments Can Take to Protect Women and Girls

Given the scope and urgency of the challenges facing women and girls during the pandemic, there are immediate actions individuals and governments can take to protect women and girls in the most vulnerable situations. Pictured: Child at a July 2019 gathering of Rohingya women leaders in Bangladesh. (UN Women / Flickr)

COVID-19 poses unique risks to women and girls—especially in refugee camps, conflict zones and communities already affected by crisis. 

Women make up 70 percent percent of the global healthcare workforce, increasing their exposure to the virus, and they also face risks at home.

The United Nations Population Fund anticipates a 20 percent increase—or additional 15 million cases of intimate partner violence—during a three-month lockdown. 

The situation is especially dire for women and girls living in places already affected by conflict and crisis. Refugees and displaced women find that washing their hands regularly and self-isolating at home is an impossible luxury. 

Meanwhile, women who work in low-wage or informal positions in developing countries have lost income and have little support as they struggle to put food on the table. 

Given the scope and urgency of the challenges facing women and girls during the pandemic, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security convened a panel of experts to recommend gender- and conflict-sensitive solutions.

Here are five immediate actions individuals and governments can take to protect women and girls in the most vulnerable situations throughout the COVID-19 crisis:

1. Ensure domestic violence survivors can access essential support.

 “We’re asking for shelters to be designated as essential services. We are asking for support to keep hotlines open. We are asking that law enforcement and police be sensitized to the issues of domestic violence in crisis situations.”

—Anita Bhatia, assistant secretary general and deputy executive director for resource management, sustainability and partnerships, UN Women.

2. Petition your representatives to enforce a global ceasefire.

“I’m calling on everyone to put pressure on your governments and on any channels that can help to [demand] a ceasefire, not only [in] Afghanistan but countries like Afghanistan, who are at war, who are experiencing an already severe humanitarian crisis.”

—Orzala Nemat, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU)

3. Provide childcare support for frontline workers.

“Support for staff needs to include things like extra leave for staff who have child caring responsibilities because schools are closed.” 

—David Miliband, president and CEO of International Rescue Committee

4. Save women’s organizations from bankruptcy.

“The donor community [must] be willing to take risks. Often the risk is not taken on women’s rights organizations. ‘You know, they’re small, they don’t have enough experience in managing funds—especially big funds.’ Well, we are in an emergency. It’s a matter of life and death. What greater risk can we consider other than trusting the women, the local populations who are there, who know the problem and who know the solutions.”

—Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, CEO of Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

5. Protect refugees and migrants.

“Governments have a deep obligation—even in circumstances where we need to put in place legitimate controls on borders—we have to have mechanisms that ensure that those [migrants] who have fear of persecution, fear of torture, fear of return to violence, are not going to be forcibly returned to their countries.”

—Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International

For more information on how women and girls are uniquely impacted by COVID-19 and are also essential to mitigating the crisis, watch the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security webinar, “COVID-19: A Gender Perspective on the Growing Humanitarian Crisis.”


Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace & Security seeks to promote a more stable, peaceful and just world by focusing on the important role women play in preventing conflict and building peace, growing economies and addressing global threats like climate change and violent extremism. GIWPS engages in rigorous research, hosts global convenings, advances strategic partnerships and nurtures the next generation of leaders.