The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone worldwide and is intensifying existing inequalities, particularly those based on gender. Such inequalities create additional burdens for women, girls, and other marginalized groups. The majority of caregivers and health care workers around the world are women and girls, and they are and will continue to face additional burdens due to gender inequality and as a result of their roles during the pandemic, especially if they work on the frontlines and in low-resource settings.
Emerging evidence shows that the gendered impact on caregivers and community health workers (CHWs) is significant. As women and girls spend more time in unpaid or low-paid care work and in informal employment because of the pandemic, their economic security will decrease as they lose education and paid work opportunities. The IGWG hosted its first ever virtual plenary on August 19, 2020, attended by participants from around the world, to explore the experiences of caregivers and CHWs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (For more details about the featured presentations, please see the links to them below.)
Among the plenary highlights:
- Presenters from India and Zimbabwe shared insights and lessons learned from their work with adolescent girls and female health workers to mitigate the negative consequences of COVID-19 in their communities.
- Small group discussions highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already weak support systems for violence against women and girls, limited health services availability, and eliminated safe spaces for girls through school closures. IGWG members shared that they have seen increased gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy in their settings since the pandemic began.
- Groups discussed the importance of addressing gender norms by working with community gatekeepers and the critical role of CHWs in responding to the pandemic and delivering crucial health services. They stressed the need to reduce the stigma to CHWs—who are bringing needed information and services to communities—and advocate to ensure that CHWs are a paid group with adequate access to personal protective equipment, transportation, and digital technology resources.
IGWG members acknowledged the challenges caused by COVID-19 pandemic. They were also hopeful that the disruptions it has caused would provide opportunities for innovation to transform gender norms and join with unlikely partners to bring positive health and social changes for girls and women.
Stephanie Perlson, Population Reference Bureau
Empowered Rural Adolescent Girls and the COVID-19 Pandemic Experiences from Rural India
Satyanarayana Ramanaik and R. Maithreyi, Karnataka Health Promotion Trust
DREAMS Reproductive Health Services Referral Network
Dominica Dhakwa, FHI 360 Zimbabwe
COVID-19 and Female Health Workers
Sunita Singal, EngenderHealth India Country Office