A new report from humanitarian organization CARE is pointing to an overlooked crisis: women’s mental health. The report is one of the only pandemic reports examining the specific gendered effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—effects that are cause for global concern.
According to the report, women were almost three times more likely than men (at 27 percent, compared to 10 percent of men) to report that their mental health had been impacted by the pandemic. Women cited issues such as skyrocketing unpaid care burdens and worries about livelihoods, food, and health care—all of which are causing rising rates of anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues.
Additionally, women were almost twice as likely as men to report having trouble accessing health services, including access to maternal, sexual and reproductive health—a lack of access which could prove deadly.
The report also noted a global rise in exposure to gender-based violence, a concerning side effect of pandemic lockdowns posing a grave risk to women’s mental and physical health. Fourteen percent of women listed issues around gender-based violence and safety as being among the biggest impacts COVID-19 had on their lives, and nearly all countries included in the survey reported an increasing demand for gender-based violence services.
CARE’S report also discussed specific economic effects of the pandemic on women. Notably, 55 percent of women reported loss of jobs or income as one of COVID-19’s biggest impacts, compared to only 34 percent of men.
Globally, women are far more likely to work in informal and less regulated sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic, in addition to having less access to unemployment benefits. (This particularly applies to Black women: A recent ProPublica report showed that Black Americans who are unemployed are far more likely to be denied unemployment benefits.)
The pandemic has also had a profound impact on food security—something that women were more concerned about than men. The report showed 41 percent of women and 30 percent of men reported a lack of food as one key impact the pandemic had on their lives—a difference that reflects the ways in which gender inequality is entrenched in both local and global food systems.
The Gender Data Gap Means Women’s Issues Go Overlooked
The report, which surveyed more than 6,000 women and 4,000 men across nearly 40 countries, uses a Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) model to fill the “gender data gap”—the global lack of data about women’s issues. The gender data gap, which affects all areas of life from health to economics and stems from a leadership that assumes men’s perspectives as “default,” ensures that women’s issues are routinely overlooked—or purported to be nonexistent.
This lack of data means that while the pandemic has hit women especially hard, their problems aren’t always given attention—let alone effective solutions. This particularly applies for women of color and low-income women, who are more likely to be employed in sectors such as child care and domestic work, where they are vulnerable to both increased risk of COVID-19 infection and exploitation by employers.
A Gendered Crisis Requires Gendered Solutions
CARE stresses the need for solutions that prioritize the unique needs of women—and for a solution to the gender data gap.
“There is power in listening to women,” said Michelle Nunn, president and CEO of CARE. “These cumulative responses provide invaluable insights into how the humanitarian and development systems can further adapt their work to support a more effective and equitable COVID-19 response, while reinforcing the critical importance of understanding what women need, and how their experience is different from men.”
CARE has proposed the following recommendations, to ensure that women’s pandemic issues are promptly addressed—and to ensure they don’t go overlooked in the future.
Get women and girls what they need. This means prioritizing support for sexual and reproductive health, combating gender-based violence, and providing aid and services to women and others who are often excluded from social protection programs and humanitarian aid.
Invest in women leaders. Globally, women are already leading—and proving that they’re good at it. By June 1, 2020, data showed that of countries worldwide, those with male leaders reported six times more deaths from COVID-19 than those with women in charge. A further investment in women leaders—at all levels, and in all sectors—will help everyone.
Fill the data gap. Without consistent collection of gender- and age-disaggregated data, women’s needs will continue to slip through the cracks. CARE also calls for a focus on qualitative data, in order to understand the complexities of people’s needs and formulate specific responses to those needs.
Be accountable for equality. Global leaders must put their money where their mouth is, and actually providing funding that will support women and girls. CARE is planning to publish a scorecard tracking how well other global actors are building gender equality into their pandemic responses, and is calling for greater accountability.
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