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Women and girls are the most socially and economically vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the majority of countries worldwide are not taking the steps to protect them, according to a new report.

UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released data on Monday that found only 1 in 8 countries have measures in place to shield women and girls from these effects.  

The data was pulled from the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, which analyzes more than 2,500 measures across 206 countries and territories. The tracker is broken down into three categories: addressing gender-based violence, supporting unpaid care, and strengthening women’s economic security.

“The global tracker supports governments in making the right policy decisions by sharing good practices and monitoring progress in care policies and measures to address violence against women,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in a press release issued to Global Citizen. 

Implementation of measures to protect women and girls may include making helplines, shelters, and legal action available for women experiencing violence, giving women cash directly, and providing child care services or paid and sick leaves.

One-fifth of the countries analyzed (42) don’t have “gender-aware” COVID-19 responses, the data showed. Only 12% of the world –– 25 countries –– have introduced measures that covered all three areas of the tracker.

“This new gender response tracker can help accelerate policy reform by guiding on gaps in national efforts and funding and highlighting best practices,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said in the release. 

Gender-based violence is one of the great threats against women during the pandemic. Intimate partner violence levels spike when households are placed under increased stress and families are forced to live in confined spaces. Countries around the world have seen an increase in domestic violence reporting during lockdowns.

Most of the response measures that have used a gender lens, 71% across 135 countries, have focused on tackling gender-based violence. Bolstering essential services such as shelters, helplines, and other reporting mechanisms have accounted for 63% of measures. However, only about 23% of countries analyzed treated gender-based violence as a key part of national and COVID-19 response plans, and very few had sufficiently funded these efforts.

Europe is leading the response when it comes to addressing gender-based violence and accounted for nearly 32% of all violence measures put into place. 

Women also face increased financial instability during crises and that has been apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women are over-represented in the hospitality, child care, leisure, and retail industries, which were hit first by COVID-19 and experienced the biggest losses

Only 10% of countries had measures that aimed to strengthen women’s economic security, according to the data. The North American continent had the largest number of measures aimed at supporting women’s economic security, followed by Africa.

The imbalanced care burden makes it even more difficult for girls and women to get ahead by preventing them from working and learning, and worsens during crises. Women spend three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men, and even more if they have young children.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, less than a third of countries took action to support unpaid care and strengthen care for children, the elderly, or people with disabilities, the tracker showed. Europe is ahead in implementing unpaid care assistance and accounted for 49% of all unpaid care measures on the tracker.

“The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity for countries to transform existing economic models towards a renewed social contract that prioritizes social justice and gender equality,” UNDP's Steiner said. 

The report included several positive examples of countries that are centering women in relief and response efforts. Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, launched a plan to support non-profit organizations that run shelters. Meanwhile, in Colombia and Sweden, gender-based violence survivors are eligible to receive financial assistance. 

To support women in business, Togo, Georgia, and Morocco are providing cash transfers or grants to women entrepreneurs and informal traders.

Several countries are also acknowledging the imbalanced care burden on women. Argentina has increased monthly child allowance payments, and Australia and Costa Rica have made sure that child care services remain open during lockdowns. Austria, Cyprus, and Italy have made work more flexible for parents and given extra paid family leave to those impacted by COVID-19. With schools and child care centers shut down, Canada, Spain, and the Republic of Korea have rolled out cash benefits for parents.

UN Women and UNDP warn that countries that have introduced women-centered response efforts will only be successful if they receive adequate and consistent funding. The organizations advise that services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence should be classified as essential services, receive funding, and be considered part of national and local COVID-19 response plans. Budgets for pandemic response and relief also need to account for women’s needs. To guarantee that the pandemic’s unique impact on women is acknowledged and addressed, women leadership and decision-making in COVID-19 response, along with sex-disaggregated data, are crucial.


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