Women of all backgrounds have been bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s devastating impact. In fact, 70% of all health care workers and first responders worldwide are women.

And it’s not just female health workers either. In Pune, India, for example, where 75% of waste pickers are women, their job became more challenging — and more critical — during the pandemic. After the outbreak, in addition to picking up and sorting the community’s trash, they began helping distribute essential supplies, such as food and medicine.

“Women are shock absorbers,” said Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Women in Global Health, describing how women often suffer more during times of crisis, whether a flood, famine, or pandemic. “Women and health workers also have an unexpected expectation to perform [an] impossible balancing act of both paid and unpaid work.”

Despite their representation on the front lines of health care, women aren’t reflected at the top of global health leadership, where a whopping 73% of executives are men. Right now women are also largely underrepresented in COVID-19 government task forces around the world, with men outnumbering women 3-to-1. UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has called it “the most discriminatory crisis we have ever experienced.”

Gender equality advocates across sectors have pointed out the injustice —and irony — of excluding women from the decision-making process during a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on them.

“We as advocates, we need to be putting women forth as people who are not just experiencing one issue or another,” said Loyce Pace, former Executive Director of the Global Health Council. “Women have a range of issues that they’re facing.”

If we are going to truly and adequately address these wide-ranging needs, governments worldwide must act now to engage and include women at every level. If not, we face an inequitable pandemic recovery, and a longer path to gender equality in every place and part of life. Learn more by exploring UNDP and UN Women’s COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, a tool that analyzes government pandemic policies in 137 countries.


Inspired by this post? Hear from more gender equality champions and changemakers by watching #EqualEverywhere:Champions for Change.


Featured Image: Prasad Ngakhus/ UNICEF