Gender inequalities continued to worsen in 2020. Women and girls were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and other global crises, exacerbating pre-existing gender norms and inequalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic is dealing a major blow to women’s employment progress and ending poverty. Women represent 70 per cent of the global health and social sector force, and they are at the front lines of the pandemic. Despite this, 4.2 per cent of all employed women lost their jobs in 2020, compared to 3 per cent employment losses for men. Poverty rates for women and girls also continued to worsen; about 247 million women over age 15 live on less than $1.90 per day, compared to 236 million men. The global gender poverty gap for women age 25 to 34 is projected to worsen, from 118 women for every 100 men in 2021, to 121 women in 2030.
Despite some progress over the past decade, gender parity remains far from reach as women and girls continue to face structural marginalization and discrimination. According to the World Economic Forum, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic could add another generation to the fight for gender parity, a goal predicted to take over 100 years to achieve.
Women and girls living in humanitarian contexts continue to be among those most affected by gender inequalities, such as limited access to decision-making processes, education, work, and gaps in sexual and reproductive health services.
Countries with a HRP in 2020 had some of the widest gender gaps. This makes it even more important to ensure humanitarian action promotes the protection, participation and leadership of women and girls, particularly adolescent girls, older women, and women and girls with disabilities.
Violence against women and girls has intensified in some settings, giving rise to a shadow pandemic of GBV. COVID-19 and economic slowdowns have also adversely impacted services and programmes for GBV. For every three months that COVID-19 lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million GBV cases are expected to occur. Women and girls living in humanitarian contexts are experiencing GBV at a disproportionate rate.
Women and girls are also disproportionately impacted by climate shocks. Those living in rural areas are more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, which are threatened by a changing climate. Such vulnerabilities can intensify the risk of GBV, which may become more acute following climate-related disasters. Women and girls are often severely limited by gendered systems, structures, laws and social expectations, and underrepresented in decision-making processes on climate action.
Addressing the acute needs of women and girls will require greater investment in humanitarian programming, informed by women’s meaningful participation, especially through community-/women-led organizations and local partners, to shape the humanitarian response as well as their equal representation in humanitarian leadership positions. Robust gender analysis and the use of sex- and age-disaggregated data, including ethnicity, race, migratory status and disability, are critical to close gender gaps.
Such efforts must be coupled with policies that expand the access of women, girls and other at-risk groups to social protection, dignified sustainable livelihoods and economic opportunities, and affordable, quality and accessible health-care services. Humanitarian response services must be gender-transformative and centred around building resilience to future shocks. And specifically, humanitarian response must prioritize the prevention of, response to and risk mitigation of GBV to ensure that humanitarian operations do not increase the risk of experiencing GBV, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
Across the humanitarian sector, there has been a growing focus on increasing the meaningful participation of women and women-led organizations in humanitarian action. In 2020, gender working groups were active in 12 crisis settings: Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Jordan, Myanmar, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Philippines, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Regional gender in humanitarian action working groups covered the Middle East and North Africa and Asia-Pacific. Local women-led organizations have increasingly engaged in meaningful participation in the HPC design and planning and HCTs, particularly in Ethiopia, Iraq, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen.
- UNFPA, COVID-19: A Gender Lens: Protecting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Promoting Gender Equality.
- OCHA calculations based on ILO data explorer - Female employment dropped from 1.28 billion to 1.23 billion in 2020.
- UN Women, From Insight to Action, Gender Equality in the Wake of COVID-19.
- World Economic Forum, Global Gender Report 2021.
- According to data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2021 Rankings.
- UN Women and UNFPA, Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in East and Southern Africa.
- UNFPA, Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.
- ActionAid, On the Frontline: Catalyzing Women’s Leadership in Humanitarian Action.
- World Bank, Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020: Reversals of Fortune.
- UN Women, Women, Gender Equality, and Climate Change.
- OHCHR, Frequently Asked Questions on Human Rights and Climate Change.
- IFRC, World Disasters Report 2020: Come Heat or High Water, Tackling the Humanitarian Impacts of the Climate Crisis Together.
- UNHCR, Global Report 2020