Identifying and mainstreaming women's and girls’ needs in COVID-19 emergency

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Disasters and crisis do not discriminate based on gender. However, their impact is not gender neutral. The impact of any crisis is affected by our social system, gender roles and individual’s access to and control over resources which are different among individuals and communities. The COVID-19 has impacted and will impact women more significantly making them more vulnerable than at other times.

 The present global pandemic is affecting people of all regions, religions, ethnicities, gender. However, to its impact, women have been more vulnerable in their daily lives. Many women have been in economic stress as they have been cut off from economic engagement. Moreover, women’s engagement in informal economy is much bigger than of men. The protection programs developed to lower the impact of COVID 19 pandemic may not reach to these women in informal works unless some special measures are taken. Women are overloaded with unpaid care and domestic works. The women working in the public sphere are in double duty; work for home and work from home as we lack equal distribution of care and domestic work load.

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is on rise during crisis. WOREC, a women's rights NGO in Nepal, in its May 2020 press release claimed to have documented 231 cases of violence against women and adolescent girls from the data collected from 14 districts in 47 days of lockdown.  In most of these cases, the perpetrators were either family members or somebody from neighborhood. Most of such women going through domestic violence at present may have no other choice but be locked up with perpetrators as the country is in lockdown and  justice mechanism and safe shelters are either inaccessible, halted or are not equipped enough to provide services amid the fear of spread  of virus.

Maternity services including pre and post natal services around the country have been either minimized or closed as the major health attention has been shifted to stop spread of corona virus and health institutions lack protective equipment required to continue providing services during this health emergency. The press releases and assessment reports of different organizations claim that there are no transportations to reach to hospitals and many women are giving birth at home, or caring their maternal and reproductive health problems on their own. This has put many women and girls at risks. Women and young girls are also facing difficulties in accessing contraception, health supplies and hygiene products like sanitary pads. Their nutritional intake during these special health conditions has also been compromised.

Along with increased vulnerability during crisis, women and girls suffer in the ways a family or community adopts post crisis coping strategies. Often after crisis, countries like ours observe increase in early and child marriage; families’ get their young girls married off or are compelled to discontinue education to cut down economic costs of families. Similarly, many women and girls take on high-risk work for their and their family’s survival such as migration out of country for work through illegal routes.

Many government and non-government organizations have been trying to address these present gender issues and needs of women and girls. There are some internationally used and known resources pertaining to the issues of gender in humanitarian setting such as The Sphere hand book, IASC Guideline, The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 among others which can be referred in relief, response and recovery programs to mainstream women and girl’s issues.  All of these practice guidelines recognize women as one of the vulnerable groups during crisis and suggest key action points that the government and other organizations can voluntarily refer to in carrying out their humanitarian works in crisis situation like COVID-19 pandemic.

The rise in GBV is the most commonly recognized issue by all resource guidelines. Thus, measures should be taken to stop it. All the programs and plans of emergency such as distribution of essential items, access to health services should be designed in a way to reduce risks of GBV. In case women and girls face violence, the reporting and justice mechanism should immediately start case registration and proceeding on the complaints. It is required that the engagement of men and boys is identified and included both as potential survivors and perpetrator of GBV in all the emergency and post emergency actions. Promoting positive masculinity is a good idea to replace traditional notion of masculinity that costs both men and women.

Gender analysis is the most recommended tool during emergency to analyze who is vulnerable at the impact of disaster. It should be carried out in order to identify gender inequalities that lead to different power, vulnerabilities, capacities, voice and participation of women, girls, men and boys. It includes gender disintegrated collection data and vulnerability level assessment.  This analysis should be the basis of every intervention.

Rise in unpaid care work for women and girls during emergency is a result of traditional gender roles. The traditional gender roles expect women and girls to be solely responsible for all the unpaid care and domestic works at household level. To address this, it is suggested to introduce strategies that recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and household responsibilities assigned to women and girls during emergency and should be carried on in long term intervention. 

Participation of women and girls in analysis, design, implementation, participation and leadership aspects for humanitarian actions is necessary in order to identify and address their needs as well as to utilize their knowledge and resilience capacity. This can be done in collaboration with women’s organizations, community based organizations and local governments. It is equally necessary to enhance the capacity of such organizations and groups to prevent, prepare and respond to disasters.  Some mechanism should also be provisioned so as to facilitate coordination and collaboration of women’s organizations and other gender progressive groups actively acting in humanitarian situation.

Adequate capacity building measures need to be taken to empower women for preparedness as well as to build their capacity to secure alternate means of livelihood in post-disaster situations. Women’s economic empowerment should be supported through livelihood improvement/generating interventions. Such interventions have to be accessible to women and shouldn’t put them into further risks.


(This article is co-authored with Ms. Bindu SharmaMs. Sharma is a graduate in international cooperation and sociology. She has been active in the field of Women’s Human Rights in Nepal.)


Picture: UNFA Nepal (

Position: Development Practitioner

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