COVID-19 One Year On: What’s Working for Women in Response and Recovery

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted an expert discussion on what is working to address the dire toll of Covid-19 on women and girls on February 18, 2021.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, women’s labor force participation has dropped by over 2 million and nearly 250 million women and girls have been subjected to intimate partner violence.

These promising practices and recommendations from our expert panel can ensure that Covid relief and recovery efforts address underlying inequalities and include a gender lens.


Women’s leadership at all levels

“We must ensure that funding and influence goes to women-led crisis response and women-led organizations for the effective, long-lasting and intergenerational impacts that we’re looking for.” – Michelle Nuun, President and CEO, CARE USA 


Women and young people must be included as decision-makers at all levels to drive an equitable and effective pandemic response, including in COVID-19 task forces and in vaccination distribution efforts.

Women’s engagement at the grassroots is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and countering disinformation. For example, CARE has engaged over 10 million women who are sharing information about handwashing and PPE. Women peacebuilders in the GNWP network use local language radio programs and community-based posters to counter disinformation.


COVID-19 relief and recovery packages

“Only 25% of countries that have implemented stimulus packages as part of Covid-19 response have taken a holistic approach that covers violence against women; women’s economic security; childcare and social protection issues.” – Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships at UN Women

Government emergency relief and recovery packages must include a strong focus on addressing women’s needs, including paid leave, child care support, tax credits, and unemployment insurance. Comprehensive approaches to childcare are critical for addressing women’s economic security.

An intersectional approach and global vaccine equity are key. According to the UN Secretary-General, more than 130 countries have not received a single vaccine dose, and the more than 2 billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected areas are at particular risk. All response plans must take into account racial and ethnic inequalities, educational and income gaps, climate change, and other overlapping crises.


Girls education during COVID-19

“We have got to do what we can to secure the continuation of girls learning where and when and how possible. And that means looking at the digital divide in really gendered ways.” – Suzanne Ehlers, Executive Director, Malala Fund

Look at the digital divide through a gender lens. Many girls do not have the same access to technology, devices, stable Internet, and electricity needed to engage in remote learning. And, they are the last in line when it comes to reserved time for studying. Governments and telecommunications companies need to work together to ensure equitable digital access that is safe and secure.

Design innovative ways to respond to girls’ needs. In Pakistan, the Malala Fund worked with the Orenda network on a mobile learning app, with support from the government, to reach millions of schoolchildren. In Nigeria, they partnered with an educational radio broadcast to stem girls’ learning loss.

Support Ministries of Education and Finance in countries around the world to make sure that girls’ education is a priority.


Intersecting impacts of gender, conflict, climate, and COVID-19

“In order to have a better response and recovery for [Syria], we need to have a political transition which is based on human rights, women’s rights, and also equity in access to health facilities and vaccinations.” – Rajaa Altalli, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Center for Civil Society and Democracy (CCSD), Syria

Do not silo political solutions from broader COVID-19 response efforts. Given the pandemic’s disruption of numerous global peace processes – from Afghanistan and Libya to Myanmar and the Sahel – continued funding for the implementation of peace agreements and women’s participation is critical. In Syria, equitable response and recovery efforts must also move toward a political transition based on Security Council Resolution 2254, which guarantees women’s participation and civil society engagement in the peace process.

Governments must leverage the synergies between the climate and COVID-19 agendas. Businesses and the private sector also have important roles to play in including green and gender frameworks in their corporate strategies.


Funding and resources  

“The strength of our response is in the swiftness and responsiveness to the needs of women and girls.” – Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, Founder and CEO of Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Support women peacebuilders and civil society organizations. These groups have been financially decimated by the pandemic, despite their critical role in relief and recovery efforts.

Governments need to drive resources, such as gender bonds, to implement the gender equality agenda and ensure all budgeting and financial instruments are gender-responsive. Gender bonds allow countries to target borrowed funds to programs that impact women and girls, including education, infrastructure, and investments in reproductive health and maternal wellbeing.

States should target funding to addressing violence against women. Several countries, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Colombia, have allocated funds to essential services and shelters in their policy aid packages.

Support for women-owned businesses in post-pandemic economic recovery. A good example is the Ministry of Finance in Albania, which is making an effort to target women-owned businesses and ensure a flow of credit going to businesses and job creation that are led by women.

Flexibility in funding and resource allocation is important to respond to the changing needs of women and activists in a timely manner, particularly in fragile or conflict-affected regions.


Monitoring and accountability

Coordinating and sharing data is critical for accountability. All actors involved in sustainable development, including large financing institutions, must collect, collate, and disseminate gender and sex-disaggregated data.

International organizations need to monitor relief packages and advocate for sufficient resourcing. UN Women and UNDP’s Gender Global Policy Response Tracker found that 20 percent of countries with economic and fiscal stimulus packages lack any focus on gender.

“Covid-19 is still extremely challenging, but we must remain resolute to build back better and equally. All relief and recovery efforts must include a gender lens and address the underlying inequalities in order to be truly effective in achieving the overall goals,” concluded Ambassador Melanne Verveer, executive director of GIWPS.