Gender mainstreaming in the COVID-19 policy response. Fostering equality during the pandemic and beyond.

Published in June, 2021

The COVID-19 crisis brought to the forefront the prevalence of profound inequalities worldwide. In a context of intermittent lockdowns, economic crisis, and sanitary uncertainty, the pandemic is widening the gaps, as the most underprivileged populations register income declines and increased health and social risks.

Gender inequalities are no exception: while women already faced greater obstacles to their autonomy, the emergency exacerbated disparities. The pandemic worsened the gender-poverty gap amid job losses and weak social protection. In 2021, for every 100 men living in poverty, there will be 118 women in the same position. This gap is even larger for young women and some territories, such as SubSaharan Africa and South Asia. In contrast to previous crises, this time, women retreated more frequently from the labor market, which affected their access to resources and well-being.

Women are concentrated in sectors that are more threatened by the crisis, such as tourism, food services and domestic work, and they are overrepresented in the informal economy, where incomes decreased 60% during the first outbreak. Consequently, women face higher job loss rates than their male counterparts, with their employment being 19% more at risk. Moreover, the pandemic unveiled how crucial care work is to sustain life, but its recognition did not imply a more equitable distribution of these tasks. Because of the feminization of care, women are on the front line to contain the outbreak and maintain communities’ well-being. Inside the household, they became responsible for the increased unpaid care workload that followed lockdowns, remote working, and school closures. While 49% and 37% of women reported an increase in the time spent on cleaning and childcare, respectively, only 33% and 26% of men did.

This phenomenon implied a refamiliarisation of care that enforced time restrictions on women, affecting their economic autonomy, access to working and educational opportunities, and mental health. Additionally, stay-at-home policies implied higher risks of gender violence for girls and women, as suggested by the rise in domestic violence calls. Secondly, outside the household, women represent more than 70% of the workforce in healthcare and social services –considered essential during the pandemic, which increased their exposure to infection.

The differential impact of the crisis on women implies a strong deprivation of their rights and an obstacle towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Therefore, gender must be considered a key variable in the policy response for recovery.

While the pandemic is responsible for increasing the gaps, it also presents an opportunity to promote new approaches to policy. The breakdown of previous patterns creates a sense of exception that is a fertile ground for structural changes that otherwise would be resisted, such as gender mainstreaming. Thus, crises can be windows of opportunity to unleash the transformative potential of these approaches in the long term. The pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences call for a comprehensive, intersectional and gender-sensitive policy response that is people-centred, addressing the current crisis, the recovery, and the aftermath.


About the Global Solutions Initiative

The Global Solutions Initiative (GSI) is a global collaborative enterprise to envision, propose and evaluate policy responses to major global problems addressed by the G20, through ongoing exchange and dialogue with the Think 20 engagement group. The GSI is a stepping stone to the T20 and G20 Summits and supports various other G20 groups. The policy recommendations and strategic visions are generated through a disciplined research program by leading research organizations, elaborated in policy dialogues between researchers, policymakers, business leaders and civil society representatives.


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