Julia Smith Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University
The most surprising finding of my research with women teachers and school leaders, conducted for the ATA last year, was how many were determined to advance their careers and take on greater leadership opportunities, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
I led five focus groups and 10 semi-structured interviews with teachers and school leaders on themes around teaching in the context of COVID-19, impacts on unpaid care work at home and the effects on career advancement. Based on my previous research with the Gender and COVID- 19 Project, a study that has been documenting the impact of COVID-19 across 12 countries, I assumed that increased workload would combine with COVID-19–related child and elder care burdens to discourage women from taking on leadership roles. I was wrong.
When asked if COVID-19 had affected their career aspirations, half of focus group participants said it had inspired them, with many responding that they felt the new challenges created by the pandemic required a type of leadership that was willing to take on emotional labour and foster positive relationships — abilities that participants felt women teachers were particularly adept at.
“I see now, maybe more than ever, the need for us to really be focusing on relationship and classroom environment, and really taking care of one another,” explained one teacher. “And again, I want to be a part of those conversations. So I feel like I can maybe help in ways that we’re needing moving forward, and I think that is actually where we as women can step up, moving forward, in light of all the challenges that we face in this pandemic.”
A number of participants also noted that the increased online learning opportunities removed barriers they had previously faced to advancing their leadership credentials. For example, one teacher with a young family shared that, as result of Covid, she has been able to pursue her master’s degree online.
“Things are so available online, and I have a young family, and I have an office set up at home now — it’s a little bit more accessible for me, just because of the way that the world is right now. And it might not have been something that I would have been able to as actively pursue even a year ago.”
Not having to travel to major cities, like Calgary or Edmonton, and being able to learn from home reduced the barriers women teachers faced to pursuing further education themselves.
While this enthusiasm was inspiring, participants also recognized barriers to achieving their ambitions. Child-care burdens due to pandemic-related school and facility interruptions, and reduced time for professional development.
One relatively new teacher described originally having hoped to go into administration or starting her master’s, but with two young children and no consistent child care, she now felt she couldn’t manage it. Teachers also faced judgment when career and care responsibilities conflicted due to pandemic events.
A superintendent noted, “We have a few principals who are women who have young children. Sometimes they can’t be in their school. If their children are isolated, they have to be at home. And they feel like the perception among the rest of their colleagues and even within their school community is that they’re not doing their job.” Others expressed fears that such perceptions would negatively impact their career advancement.
The pandemic also greatly affected teacher and school leaders’ overall well-being, leading to concerns about burnout. The combined increased workload at home and at school left many exhausted and distressed. One teacher explained, “I think it’s always feeling like we’re letting someone down, and right now it’s either we’re letting students down, or biological children.”
Inability to meet both career and caregiving demands left some feeling powerless.
“I felt really defeated. I felt like I wasn’t doing a good enough job, I felt like a loser. I was at a loss — how was I supposed to help my kids — and I felt like I was losing every day.”
Thankfully, teachers and school leaders had multiple recommendations on how to overcome barriers and support well-being. These included continued online collaborations and meetings; activities to bring people together and connect in a safe way; continued flexibility to allow working from home where and when possible; reducing extracurricular activity demands; robust in-school mental health support for staff and students; a holistic approach to supporting teacher well-being, including paid care leave days, access to counselling and other supports; professional development days dedicated to COVID-19 recovery activities, such as mental wellness; resources to support women educators in pursuing career development, including support for care responsibilities that might restrict opportunities; and ensuring diverse voices in decision making, and developing equity policies to guard against discrimination based on gender, care responsibilities or leave taken due to COVID-19.
Acting on these recommendations can ensure that remarkable women teachers and school leaders are able to step up to leadership roles, to the full extent that they desire, in order to foster a positive and more equitable pandemic recovery.
Dr. Julia Smith is an interdisciplinary social scientist trained in policy analysis and political economy, with a focus on gender and health inequities.
By Rosemary Morgan, PhD, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
A gender lens can and should be applied to all health research and intervention topics that involve people. This is because gender power relations affect everybody. Despite this, there has been a historic neglect of gender-based analysis in health. There is also the problem that a gender lens is often applied in an unsystematic way. A gender analysis matrix is a tool to help you systematically apply a gender lens.
As a gender specialist, I have used a gender analysis matrix within most, if not all, of my projects. I even teach about matrixes in my gender analysis class at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In my reading about how to conduct gender analysis, I found much of the guidance to be a quite vague and unsystematic. I don’t doubt that gender specialists and advisors knew how to do gender analysis – it’s just that there wasn’t a lot of guidance that explained how to do it.
A gender analysis matrix – which is essentially a table – can help you to explore how gender power relations manifest to create inequities between and among women, men, and sexual and gender minorities. It uses established gender frameworks, such as the Morgan et al and Jhpiego frameworks, alongside relevant topic domains that are chosen by the researcher or implementer. Gender analysis domains include: access to resources, roles and practices, norms and beliefs, decision-making power and autonomy, and laws, policies and institutions. Exploring the ways in which inequities manifest across all these domains ensures that a gender lens is being systematically applied and that one area is not privileged over another.
How did we use the matrix?
We used the matrix for two purposes: to brainstorm and to record the different ways in which gender power relations affect infectious disease outbreaks. Our topic specific domains included such things as: risk and vulnerability, illness and treatment, and social, economic, and security impacts.
For brainstorming the initial matrix included questions in each cell which were posed for further reflection and analysis related to the intersection of each topic-specific domain and gender analysis domain. These were used to identify evidence of how gender power relations manifested in each area. For example, questions under risk and vulnerability and access to resources included: “To what extent do men, women, and gender minorities have access to financial resources to purchase equipment and material needed to protect themselves from infection? This question was meant to direct the researcher to find evidence related to differential access to supplies (and why), and how this might affect a person’s vulnerability to infection.
To record the different ways in which gender power relations affect infectious disease outbreaks, we used the gender analysis matrix to assess media sources and grey literature, which provided a useful source of information to understand the real-world effects of political responses and government policy. These sources (compared to more traditional sources of data) were especially useful given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic and the need to collect information quickly. While we used media sources and grey literature, gender analysis matrixes can be used to systematically integrate gender analysis into any health or health systems qualitative or quantitative research or intervention.
Building off the matrix
While our initial aim was to systematically and clearly demonstrate the wide-ranging gendered effects to inform policy and practice, we also used the matrix to identify gaps and inform future research. Within the matrix, we found that what was missing was just as important as what was included. Gaps demonstrated less prioritized or reported upon areas – or in other words the unseen issues or those at the margins. We also used the results from the matrix to inform further research tools – to structure our data collection tools and include specific follow-up questions.
Challenges to using the matrix
Using a gender analysis matrix is not without its challenges. One challenge was organizing data, as data does not always fit neatly into each domain, or it cuts across multiple domains, which can make it difficult to know where to input it. Another was the potential for minimizing complexity, especially due to the multi-faceted way in which gender power relations are produced and reproduced. And a third was ensuring the matrix is intersectional – it is important that an intersectional lens is intentionally included to ensure that the analysis does not further marginalize people by not representing a diverse range of experiences.
We used the matrix to study the gendered impacts of COVID-19, but it could also be used for any health or health systems topic. In my work, I’ve used a matrix to explore: gender and community health workers, gender and infectious diseases, gender and maternal and child health, and gender and nutrition, among others. Gender analysis matrixes can be used at any stage of the research or intervention process to inform primary data collection or implementation. They can be used to make sure you are asking the right questions and collecting appropriate data, or to ensure that considering the ways in which gender power relations may affect the ability of your research or intervention to meet its objectives. Without doing so, we not only minimize the impact of our work, but risk perpetuating and reinforcing harmful gender power relations.
“My husband travels whole day to sell sarees (dress worn by Indian women) to earn for the family. Now due to lockdown, the business got halted. During the un-locked phase as well, people are buying fewer dresses and thus he is not earning a good income. We do not know how I will feed my family. We have two more children to feed. Hence, my husband decided that it’s better to marry off the elder daughter now. The future is unclear, and I don’t know if we would ever be able to live like earlier,” said one mother about her husband’s decision to marry off their eldest daughter who is just 16 years old.
Child and forced marriage gained tremendous pace, in India as the country went into lockdown to try and arrest the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. India has a child marriage prevention law – Prohibition of child marriage act 2006 – which is based on the old Child marriage restraint act of 1929. The earlier law, which was implemented by the British in colonial India, severely punished any adult who married an underage girl and punished the parents who encouraged such marriages. The amended law came in with stringent punishments for all the stakeholders party to any event of an underage marriage, especially of girls. Prohibition officers have been created by the law to offer girls support. Despite all of this, marriages keep happening in rural areas.
As part of Project Concern International India’s Umang Project we tele-interviewed 45-woman volunteers and 70 mothers from the rural areas in Jharkhand to understand the status of adolescent girls in April 2020 and April 2021 respectively.
April 2020 interviews informed us that mothers were somehow resisting new matches being fixed for their adolescent daughters. However, the pressure and risk kept increasing, as families were losing their savings and wanted to ensure that savings for dowry were not depleted. Cancelation of marriage is considered to be negative, hence parents ensured all those marriages are solemnized which were under discussion with groom’s family and those which had been fixed. Incidences of sexual abuse of girls during the crisis did not decrease. Girls continued to face situations of rape or incest. Hence, marriage continued to be an option for parents.
One of the mothers mentioned, “We are now eating up the savings we had kept for our daughter’s marriage. We cannot now think of earning again to save for her marriage. Soon we get a match, will get Rekha (daughter) married earliest without any hesitation. There is no way we can wait.”
After a year when many were thinking about restarting their lives the second wave of COVID-19 hit India. The pandemic reached rural areas and silently devastated families who had no support in terms of public health, social entitlements, or social solidarity.
The unpredictable nature of the pandemic resulted in parents taking severe regressive decisions. Girls are missing their second academic session and parents have lost hope that their girls will get educated or gain any sort of career opportunities. Foreseeing the deteriorating fortunes of their families, marrying off their adolescent daughters has become a viable option. Girls who are 16-18 years old are at highest risk of getting married. The requirement that weddings have limited numbers of guests and as a result incur fewer expenses is also prompting parents to arrange weddings now.
One of the PCI team members shared, “I have got to know that five girls have been married off in April this year from one village only. These girls were unable to continue their education due to lockdown and had no access to online education. Hence, parents chose to marry them off. Due to COVID restrictions, marriages are being organized in low cost and no-frills ways. Even mothers are showing their helplessness to stop their daughters being married before 18 years of legal age”.
This pandemic has failed not only these girls but also their parents and many others who had started walking on the path to enable girls to aspire a better life, pursue higher education and plan a career towards economic independence. The job market has rapidly shrunk.
One of the mothers opined that, “Job opportunities for girls are closed now. With the shrinking economic space, it’s better for boys to compete there and let girls again go back and take care of domestic responsibilities. Local role models of front-line workers are not able to create an enabling environment, as the recruiters prefer married women to these positions. There is no gain in allowing daughters to roam around in the house. It’s better to get her married soon.”
Loss of parents is adding to this crisis, particularly when mothers die as they are often friends and supportive of their daughters. Left alone fathers have more autonomy to make the decision to marry off their daughters.
Going through such traumatic stories during the conversations with women and girls, one of the PCI team members expressed, “For how many more years, girls would be treated a burden of the family and would be silently bearing this pain?”
Enhancing the value of girl children is crucial and non-negotiable. All stakeholders (public and private) need to ensure that their plans, projects, schemes, policies, investment should have an equal space and opportunity for girls.
Comprehensive and coordinated, multi-sectoral engagement is needed to re-start the journey on the empowerment continuum, starting from education and knowledge generation.
Enhanced access to protection schemes and platforms for women and girls is needed.
Create awareness about laws and schemes that support women and girls and encourage the use of these schemes by improving accessibility
Government should undertake a head count of all adolescent girls matching their census data to ascertain the volume girls who have married early. Quality data will help to design appropriate strategies to mitigate the vulnerabilities of girls.
Strategize to connect ‘last mile’ girls with education facilities; so that no one is left out. Provide free internet services and provide digital devices to enable access and engagement.
Encourage girls into higher education with scholarships so that further education does not burden their families.
Create gender equitable, job market and skills development opportunities.
Women’s collectives should be engaged intensively to generate more public/community discussions on issues of adolescents and possible mitigation plans.
We need to focus on more rigorous data and research to understand the impact of marriage on the lives of adolescents.
The responses and opinions of mothers in this research, give us an opportunity to understand how badly the crisis is devastating the lives of adolescent girls and their families. We need to focus on creating a new pathway for empowerment to build back better – a new normal – a gender egalitarian society, with no inequities.
In this blog Alice Murage explores the Gender Analysis and COVID-19 Matrix. She explains how to use the Matrix to rapidly collect and analyse data and how this data can be used in decision-making and in designing larger studies.
The Gender Analysis and COVID-19 Matrix is an important analytical tool developed by the Gender and COVID-19 Project to rapidly capture and share a snapshot of gendered impacts of the pandemic across countries and case studies. Although past pandemics have taught us that the impacts of pandemic and consequent policies are highly gendered in emergencies in-depth research on gender does not always inform evidence-based policies. The Matrix is an exciting new tool whose utility holds a promise of informing gender responsive interventions in real-time.
The Matrix organizes large amounts of qualitative data using horizontal and vertical categories identifying interactions of individual experiences with gender analysis domains. The domains were carefully selected by the Project to allow an examination of gendered power dynamics. How gender interacts with access to resources, roles in society, societal norms and beliefs, distribution of decision-making power, and institutional provisions. The Matrix does not examine gender in isolation but rather recognizes that an individual’s social location is also informed by other factors such race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, age, income level, and source of income, among others. Adopting an intersectional lens in this analysis, not only offers a more accurate picture of diverse experiences and outcomes but also acknowledges contexts that structure social inequalities.
Using the Matrix
You can use the Gender Analysis and COVID-19 Matrix to do your own analysis. By collecting data from news articles and plotting them against the Matrix and its domains of analysis, you can rapidly start mapping the gendered impacts of the pandemic and response policies. This guide offers broad gender analysis questions to consider for each domain.
In using the Matrix to conduct an analysis of the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya, I systematically retrieved and analysed news reports available online using predetermined search terms like COVID-19, coronavirus, gender, women, and health workers. Sometimes, news reports referred to research and NGO reports which I also looked at in case they contained other related data. The idea is to rapidly and effectively identify gendered and intersectional social locations and policies that contribute to risks of infection, experiences with COVID-19 illness and treatment, access to other health services and systems, and the social, economic, and security impacts of the pandemic. I then situated the different experiences and outcomes within the pre-determined gender analysis domains.
It is important to understand what each domain represents as it can be a bit confusing to determine which domain to use for particular experiences. Slum residents in Kenya, for instance, experience unique risks to COVID-19 exposure due to overcrowded living arrangements, limited resources including limited access to water, and occupation as daily wage-earners with low income. After an examination of the domains, I determined that access to resources and decision-making power were most relevant. While the former was most obvious, the decision-making power was more implicit because by living in overcrowded housing arrangements and being low-wage daily earners, slum dwellers have limited choice with regards to implementing public health advisory around social distancing, staying at home, or working from home. I, therefore, included an article evidencing risks that slum dwellers take to earn a living under the power domain. In some instances, based on interpretation, an experience of one demographic can, therefore, be relevant to two domains.
Risk & Access to Resources “Slum residents at risk due to overcrowding and limited resources; 37% of residents lack access to a personal water sources”
Risk & Power “Urban slums residents have limited ability to social distance due to overcrowding and need to continue working as most are daily wage earners”
Utility in comparative analysis
The Gender and COVID-19 Project completed the Matrix analysis for various countries. This offers a platform for a quick comparative analysis. In looking at Nigeria and Kenya, for instance, there are similarities in the risk of exposure to those living in low-resourced overcrowded neighbourhoods with limited access to water as well as in limitations in accessing COVID-19 treatment due to inadequate or lack of health insurance. In both countries, cases of gender-based violence have significantly increased due to lockdowns and the issue has been pushed up in the policy agenda. While in Nigeria, this has resulted in structural changes such as domestication of the Violence in Person Prohibition by a number of states and a declaration of a state of emergency on rape, in Kenya resource allocation prioritizing COVID-19 response in police enforcement and health care still hinder redress. In Nigeria and Brazil, health care workers, predominantly women in both countries, face violence and bullying in their workplaces as they respond to COVID-19 in the frontlines. In Brazil, racism contributes to Black health workers being particularly vulnerable to this abuse. In Kenya, Nigeria, and Brazil, the Matrix analysis demonstrates how gendered division of labour and related norms play out during the pandemic: Men primarily as breadwinners and women as homemakers.
Kenya Matrix“Women are more worried about food shortage and death resulting from COVID; men are more worried about loss of income, lack of treatment, and possibility of infecting others”“Women give up employment to take care of children following school closure due to social norms around gendered division of labour”
Brazil Matrix“During the pandemic, women are more preoccupied with health while men are more worried about bankruptcy”“More than 11 million women heads of households go to great lengths to reconcile work, children, lack of money and mental health: Data shows Black single mothers are the majority and face severe restrictions on internet access, housing, education, and sanitation”
Nigerian Matrix“Men and boys break curfew and find ways around lockdown restrictions to fulfil gendered provider role”“Women’s participation in paid work likely impacted by increased care work; burden of home-schooling shouldered by mothers”
Informing gender responsive interventions and policies
The Gender Analysis and COVID-19 Matrix is an efficient tool to use in times of emergencies where there is limited time for in depth research. Its utility in facilitating a rapid gender analysis means that real-time data can be generated to inform policy. Since data is primarily retrieved from news reports, it is very current. The Matrix allows the user to identify gender-related considerations for programmes and policies and how pre-existing programmes and policies can be modified. An examination of the Kenya Matrix, for instance, reveals increased vulnerability of pregnant women due to reprioritization of health care resources and transportation challenges during curfew hours. A gender responsive intervention in this case could, for instance, include targeted prioritization of some health care resources and coordination in finding local solutions by engaging community health workers and NGOs. A longitudinal analysis using the Matrix could also allow policy makers to rapidly track the impact of newly implemented response policies.
Make your own COVID-19 Matrix!
Do you need to understand the gendered impacts of the pandemic and response policies in a particular context? If the answer is yes, give the Matrix a try. It allows you to carry out a systematic gender analysis without having to spend significant amount of time required on in-depth literature review or research.
The Matrix also offers a good foundation for in-depth research and monitoring and evaluation. It can be used to identify and develop gender analysis questions to include in data collection tools, codes for qualitative data analysis, variables for quantitative analysis, and gender indicators for monitoring and evaluation.
As an analytical tool, the Matrix, is versatile and can be modified to meet study or intervention needs and objectives. However, to maintain its utility in gender analysis, the domains represented by the vertical categories should be maintained. Topical domains represented by the horizontal categories can be modified as needed. While a gender analysis in the context of any public health emergency or pandemic would likely find the domains relevant as they are, domains such as illness/treatment and health systems/services might be irrelevant in the context of environmental disasters such as floods.
Closing World Health Worker Week, we release the results of the fourth round of the survey “The COVID-19 pandemic and public health professionals in Brazil”, organized by Fundação Getúlio Vargas in partnership with Fiocruz, Rede COVID-19 Humanidades and the Gender and COVID-19 Project.
A total of 1,829 Brazilian public health professionals were interviewed, such as doctors, nursing professionals, community agents and others, during the month of March 2021. The results reinforce the neglect of public authorities in relation to these professionals and the lack of progress after more than a year of pandemic, when the country is experiencing an unprecedented health and hospital collapse.
Almost all respondents (96.6%) said they knew a co-worker with suspected or diagnosed COVID-19, 87.6% were afraid of the disease, 72.6% did not receive training, 80.2% felt that their mental health was negatively affected by the pandemic and only 19% received support to take care of their mental health. Poor administration of the pandemic by the Federal Government, scientific denialism and fear of exposing the family to the virus are among the greatest concerns of these professionals. Community Health Workers (CHW), mostly female and black, are those who, in general terms, receive less personal protective equipment (PPE), less training to cope with the pandemic, less testing and feel less supported by direct supervisors and governments; doctors and, in some cases, nursing professionals face the pandemic in better working conditions and with greater institutional support – even though, in the case of these professions, conditions are also poor and support is low.
Oito de cada dez profissionais de saúde pública Brazileiros relatam exaustão emocional após um ano de pandemia
Fechando a semana mundial dos profissionais da área da saúde, divulgamos os resultados da quarta fase do survey “A pandemia de Covid-19 e os(as) profissionais de saúde pública no Brasil”, realizado pela Fundação Getúlio Vargas em parceria com a Fiocruz, a Rede Covid-19 Humanidades e o projeto Gênero & Covid-19. Foram entrevistados 1829 profissionais da saúde do setor público de todo o Brasil, como médicos, profissionais de enfermagem, agentes comunitários e outros, durante o mês de março de 2021. Os resultados reforçam o descaso do poder público em relação a esses profissionais e a falta de avanços após mais de um ano de pandemia, quando o país vive um colapso sanitário e hospitalar sem precedentes. Quase todos respondentes da pesquisa (96,6%) afirmaram conhecer algum companheiro de trabalho com suspeita ou diagnóstico de Covid-19, 87,6% sentem medo da doença, 72,6% não receberam treinamento, 80,2% sentiram que sua saúde mental foi negativamente afetada pela pandemia e apenas 19% receberam apoio para cuidar da saúde mental. Má condução da pandemia pelo Governo Federal, negacionismo científico e medo de expor a família ao vírus estão entre as maiores preocupações desses profissionais. Os Agentes Comunitários de Saúde e de Combate a Endemias (ACS/ACE), categoria majoritariamente feminina e negra, são os que, em termos gerais, recebem menos equipamentos de proteção individual (EPI), menos treinamento para o enfrentamento adequado à pandemia, menos testagem e se sentem mais desamparados tanto por superiores(as) diretos quanto por governos; médicos(as) e, em alguns casos, profissionais de enfermagem enfrentam a pandemia em melhores condições de trabalho e com maior apoio institucional – ainda que, também no caso dessas profissões, as condições sejam ruins e o apoio seja baixo. Saiba mais sobre o survey em: link
This blog by Anamika Priyadarshini, Shiney Chakraborty, Madhu Joshi and Devaki Singh explores how woman leaders in Bihar are addressing the issue of domestic violence. The results are contradictory, with many woman leaders denying the existence of the phenomenon while simultaneously intervening to prevent it. The study demonstrates that social norms around gender-based violence are pervasive and affect women in leadership positions in detrimental ways.
A rise in domestic violence amid the COVID crisis is a global phenomenon. In India, Bihar was one of the four states where the greatest number of complaints of domestic violence were reported to the National Commission for Women in the first four weeks of the lockdown.
However, deep internalization of domestic violence as a social norm often affects people’s ability to recognize it as violence/crime against women. This phenomenon was apparent in a virtual study conducted by Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3) with 1338 elected women representatives or women Panchayati Raj Institution members of Bihar. Panchayats are a system of local self-governance in rural India.
The flux of denial
The study aimed at understanding how the COVID-19 crisis and rural Bihar’s social norms impacted on gendered perceptions and the lives of elected women representatives, and in the process, their evolution as leaders. the findings show that normalization of oppressive norms often obstruct elected women representatives’ preparedness to recognize and address domestic violence.
Around 77% of participants denied hearing about incidences of physical abuse (i.e. slapping, beating, burns, using a stick or other weapon or threatening to do so) against any women by their husband in the last 12 months. But 61% reported that they intervened and attempted to stop abuse reported by women in their constituencies. Furthermore, 13% participants even claimed that they had intervened in such matters more often in the past 3 months. Similarly, 93% participants denied hearing about child marriage in their constituency, and yet, 82% said they had mediated to stop child marriage in the last 12 months. 46% of them specified that they had to intervene in such matters more frequently during the last three months. It is not surprising that as community leaders, participants refrained from acknowledging occurrence of criminalized social practices like domestic violence and child marriage. But, while responding to questions on leadership roles, they asserted their interventions aimed at checking such practices.
Rationalizing domestic violence and discouraging its reporting
Not recognising domestic violence as a crime, or at least an unacceptable practice, also affected elected women representatives’ inclination to promote help-seeking behaviour. About 54% participants were not aware about the Helpline, Women Police or other services/pathways/strategies to support domestic violence survivors. In in-depth interviews participants explained how the COVID-19 crisis had triggered financial stress, and consequently, a surge in alcohol consumption among men, often followed by rise in domestic violence. An attempt to rationalize domestic violence as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, financial stress and alcohol consumption among men was apparent in most of the participants’ narratives of domestic violence.
Participants’ ideas of leadership usually reflected complex interfaces of social norms and normatively perceived models of women’s empowerment, which are not necessarily anti-patriarchal. While 71% of the survey participants believed that domestic violence is not a personal/family matter, most of the interview participants felt discouraging domestic violence survivors from approaching police was a strategy to ensure peace, harmony and even prosperity in their constituency. Probable expenditure in a domestic violence case, which implied approaching police, lawyers and the court, was frequently referred to by elected women representatives to discourage both the survivors and the perpetuators from approaching police. For many participants, approaching police for resolving a domestic violence case, which is expected to be resolved internally, also implied loss of social respect. Socially privileged caste elected women representatives even considered domestic violence a culture exclusively prevalent in socially marginalized castes and believed that it does not happen in privileged-caste households with non-drinking, well-settled, educated couples.
The study’s findings indicate that though the policy of reserving 50% seats for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions, effective in Bihar since 2007, has enhanced the physical representation of women, it has not necessarily influenced patriarchal norms within society. Most of the participants denied hearing about domestic violence whilst simultaneously arguing that COVID-19 has deepened the gender divide in rural Bihar and that domestic violence and child marriage have been more common during the lockdown. Based on the study findings, recommendations for enhancing elected women representatives’ preparedness to address domestic violence in rural Bihar include:
Institutionalized education and sensitization of elected representatives of local government, both women and men, about the significance of addressing domestic violence
Reinforcement of the idea that domestic violence is unacceptable through awareness raising efforts, campaigns etc. that challenge the culture of normalizing domestic violence
Generating awareness about legal provisions, helplines, women police and other mechanisms to support women who are seeking help
Strengthening the existing provision of shelter homes, which includes providing counselling, legal support and skill training to domestic violence survivors
Integrating the issue of gender-based violence (like domestic violence and rape) and existing legal provisions for checking such violence in school curriculum and sensitizing adolescents, both boys and girls, about the issue’s severity
Shiney Chakraborty and Anamika Priyadarshini are the Principal Investigators of this study.
While only a minority of Canadians have experienced COVID-19 transmission, we are all experiencing the response in terms of physical distancing measures, interruptions in education and social services, and economic uncertainty. How and to what degree we experience these shifts is determined by intersecting social, economic and identity factors. On International Migrants Day, we consider the specific experiences of migrant women, drawing on preliminary findings from two research projects being conducted in British Columbia.
From August-October 2020, the IRIS Project spoke to 18 migrant women about how COVID-19 had affected their access to healthcare. Women shared various challenges reaching and utilizing virtual healthcare services during the pandemic, including limited access to technology and childcare support, and language barriers.
Where in-person healthcare was needed, women experienced challenges related to taking public transportation while pregnant, attending health services alone, or bringing children to appointments. One woman described her experience navigating COVID-19 safety protocols in a hospital soon after delivering a baby:
We asked if a friend could please come so I wouldn’t be left alone. They said ‘no, if it’s not your husband then you have to be alone’. It was really difficult that we could not get permission [for someone] to stay with me after. So the next day we left the hospital, my husband went to work, and I was alone.
Shifts in health service delivery, where doctors were not accepting new patients, walk-in clinics were temporarily closed, and in-person services were cancelled, led to healthcare access delays, unmet health needs, and the need to travel long distances to access language-specific care:
Here, there are barely any doctors who speak Spanish, and that [doctor] is the only one I have been able to get. She has seen me through video call. She did ask me to go see her in-person because they opened a walk-in clinic, but it is very far… I have to take the train, the bus, I have to take the children, it has been complicated for me.
In times of need, migrant women described the work of community-based organizations, including immigrant-specific programs and clinics and foodbanks, as critical forms of support for food, social connection, clinic referrals and language-specific COVID-19 information:
If it weren’t thanks to other [community-based] groups that translate the information, thanks to them we can be more attentive about how many cases there are. But because of the government? Well, no honestly. Everything is in English or French.
Migrant women and their partners lost jobs, work permits, and experienced significant delays in immigration processes. This led women and their families to lose both their immigration status and health insurance. Migrant women described experiencing severe financial and mental health challenges as a result, and being forced to pay out-of-pocket for needed healthcare services or avoid healthcare altogether.
Looking beyond health effects, the Gender and COVID-19 Project spoke to migrant women about the social and economic effects of the COVID-19 response. The eight women interviewed in May and June of 2020 all spoke of struggling to manage without childcare and schools. While this was a common challenge of parents at the time, migrant mothers particularly worried about their ability to support their children in online learning, considering their own language barriers and unfamiliarity with the Canadian education system. One mother explained:
His teacher sent the homework and I should study first by myself and then explain to my son ‘you should do this, you should do that’ and was really different for me. That was a big headache for me because it’s so hard . . . You know if you were good in English your problem is less, but I wasn’t.
Lack of access to other services, such as libraries, created additional barriers to education for children, which in turn caused economic stress and feelings of guilt for mothers:
My daughter ask me I want to have – I want to order this book, this book, this book if she find it online and I explain for her I couldn’t pay lots of money for book, for buying book . . . And before COVID we borrow at library.
Concurrently, mothers’ education efforts were interrupted:
I was applying for health in BCIT. I wanted to take my English 12 because I wanted to take a program. But right now BCIT is not working, any college is not working because of COVID-19.
English classes were canceled and then, in some cases, moved online. However, mothers found it hard to participate online with children at home.
COVID-19 related anxiety and stress was exacerbated by the lack of local family and social networks to help ease COVID-19 related care burdens, and fear for their children if they were to become sick. One mother explained she had given up her job as an essential worker because of fear of infection:
My fear was if I get sick, who’s going to take care of my son. There is no one else.
Recommendations from migrant women
The women interviewed within both the IRIS and the Gender and COVID-19 Project presented numerous ideas on how to mitigate the negative consequences of the COVID-19 response. These included:
Including all migrants in government social protection schemes during COVID-19 and beyond, including those with precarious immigration status and without documentation
Implementing tailored, accessible, and needs-specific health and social services that are both culturally and linguistically appropriate
Safely distributing essential items, including educational materials like technology and books, at central locations like schools and libraries
Additional support for online learning for migrant families
Silke Staab, Constanza Tabbush and Laura Turquet explore unique global data – ‘The Gender Tracker’ – compiled by UN Women and UNDP to provide scholars and advocates with a new tool to assess governments’ responses in relation to the mounting needs of women and girls as a result of COVID-19.
The Gender Tracker captures more than 2,500 policy measures in 206 countries and territories worldwide, spanning four domains: social protection, labour market, fiscal and economic, and violence against women and girls (VAWG). UN Women and UNDP compiled the data in existing trackers, surveys and through extensive research, and used a specially developed methodology to assess the extent to which each measure tackles women’s specific vulnerabilities and is therefore considered ‘gender-sensitive.’
Monitoring measures across different policy domains presents a methodological challenge because policies vary in scope and scale.
To adapt to such diversity, the tracker adopts a two-pronged approach in determining what is a gender-sensitive measure. The first is to collect data on measures that are by definition gender-sensitive, such as those aimed at tackling violence against women. In contrast, the second approach looks at broad sectoral policies—like social protection, labour market, economic and fiscal measures—taken in response to COVID-19 and identifies a subset of ‘gender sensitive’ measures that explicitly aim to address women’s economic security or support unpaid care work.
Now, let’s look at the findings that each of these approaches has surfaced.
Countries are stepping up action to address violence against women and girls (VAWG)
Governments around the world have mounted an important response to the upsurge of violence against women during the pandemic. Results show the greatest bulk of gender sensitive measures focus on violence against women: 135 countries have adopted around 700 measures on preventing and/or responding to VAWG in the COVID-19 context. This is a heartening response to the UN Secretary General’s call to action for Member States to counter the ‘horrifying surge’ in violence against women and girls during the pandemic. Most of these measures aim at strengthening services for women survivors, by upscaling helplines, online, WhatsApp and other reporting mechanisms, expanding shelters and facilitating police and judicial responses. A significant number of countries (88 countries), including Albania, Jordan, and Myanmar, took actions to raise awareness about the increased risks of VAWG during the pandemic and how to seek help (see Figure 1: Number of countries that have at least one violence against women measure, by measure type).
Yet many of these measures have been small scale and temporary. Only 48 out of 135 countries have declared VAWG services essential; and very few have followed through with additional funding to enable these services to cope with the rising demand. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the exceptions, with plans to support civil society organizations running shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, services they have designated as essential.
The social protection and jobs response has been largely gender blind
The broader social protection and jobs response is woefully inadequate to help women cope with the profound livelihood shock and dramatic rise in demand for unpaid care brought on by COVID-19 (see Figure 2: Proportion of gender-sensitive measures out of total social protection and labour market response).
It is notable that, countries that invested in strengthening their social protection systems before the pandemic like Argentina, Brazil, Egypt and South Africa are among the 39 countries that have been able to quickly scale up existing cash transfer programmes, or roll out new ones, in response to the crisis. For example, Argentina raised the monthly payments for the 4.3 million beneficiaries of its largest cash transfers that prioritize women as recipients; and Egypt pledged to increase coverage of existing cash transfers like Takaful and Karama programmes that partly target female-headed households, reaching a total of 3.6 million households. Other countries, such as Burkina Faso, Morocco and Togo, launched new (relatively smaller) emergency measures aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs and informal traders with cash transfers, grants and subsidized credits. In Togo, the ad-hoc emergency coronavirus cash transfer programme (Novissi) targeting informal workers included larger benefits for women, but has now unfortunately been discontinued.
Notwithstanding these good examples, they remain the exception rather than the rule and, as the second wave sweeps in, sustainability of some of these programmes is emerging as a clear concern.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 response is particularly insufficient when it comes to supporting unpaid care work. Across the globe, women have continued to take on the lion’s share of the household work of cleaning, cooking and childcaring, which has sharply increased since the onset of the pandemic. Alarmingly, very few governments have taken action in this area, and only 8 per cent of all social protection and job measures (111 measures across 60 countries) aim to support it. As many as two thirds of countries register no measures at all on unpaid care work. Of those countries that do, common measures taken, like extending paid family and sick leave or flexi-work arrangements, mostly benefit those in formal employment, leaving the majority of informal workers unprotected. Some countries, like Canada, Spain or Republic of Korea, have introduced ‘cash-for-care’ programmes that compensate parents for school or day care closures. Meanwhile, support for public care services – which are critical for women to hold on to their jobs and can have socially equalizing effects for children – has been minimal. There are, of course, positive exceptions. Costa Rica, for example, ensured that childcare services remain open during lockdown to provide continued support to essential and other workers with young children.
Turning the tide: Using data to carve a gender just recovery
As the pandemic lingers on and the economic recession deepens, monitoring government responses from a gender perspective remains critical. To support this, UN Women and UNDP will provide periodic updates of the Gender Tracker throughout 2021, including new measures, additional details on the implementation of existing ones, start and end dates to capture the duration of measures, as well as new policy areas.
Already the tracker reveals important gaps in the current response that require urgent attention, and also identifies a series of good practices. This makes it a powerful instrument for feminist advocacy. The database is also available for download and provides an excellent basis for further research. Academics can use it, for instance, to explain why some countries appear to have a stronger gender response than others, or assess whether women’s representation matters to advancing gender measures in different policy areas like VAGW or social protection.
History tells us that, sadly, this global crisis is unlikely to be the last. If there is something positive to come out of this pandemic, it is the recognition of the urgent need to address pervasive gender inequalities that make women and girls especially vulnerable to the fallout of crises. Using tools like the tracker, we hope that feminists working in different spaces can join forces to ensure that short and medium-term policy responses are gender-sensitive and that longer-term efforts to ‘build back better’ squarely incorporate feminist demands for more just and caring societies.
Three young women wearing masks are selling medicine on the street during the COVID-19 crisis in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Jennifer A. Patterson/ILO.
Imagine you are in a relationship where your partner sometimes gets physically violent. Now imagine that due to COVID-19 public health safety measures, you are confined to your home with your abuser 24 hours a day, with increased stress related to reduced income or trying to homeschool children. These public health safety measures may be protecting you from COVID-19, but they are putting your health and safety at risk in other very real ways. This is the current reality for millions of women and children around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not gender neutral. The design and implementation of gender insensitive pandemic response measures have the potential to magnify risks for gender-based violence (GBV) experienced by women and girls living in humanitarian and fragile settings. Efforts to incorporate GBV protections within global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic remain inadequate. GBV encompasses a variety of damaging acts perpetrated against someone based on their gender expression, gender identity, or perceived gender. Power hierarchies rooted in gender often manifest as violence perpetrated by males against women and girls; in humanitarian settings compounding crises magnify power differentials between men and women.
Aggregate population statistics fail to capture the experiences of women and girls living in humanitarian and fragile settings at the intersection of poverty, forced displacement, xenophobia, and COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic intersects with existing patriarchal systems of inequality and oppression to magnify risk for adverse health outcomes for women and girls in humanitarian settings. To explore the intersections between COVID-19 and GBV in humanitarian settings we employed syndemic theory, which originates from the field of medical anthropology. Syndemics occur when two or more epidemics or adverse health or social states cluster within a given population and interact to mutually reinforce one another. This intersectional clustering occurs within a context of oppressive environmental factors/social forces that magnify vulnerabilities, especially among those already marginalized.
In our BMJ Commentary, we make the case that gender-insensitive pandemic control policies in humanitarian settings create a syndemic between COVID-19 and GBV. We draw on the Ebloa epidemic in the DRC and related changes in GBV perpetration to leverage lessons learned considering the COVID-19 pandemic. We propose gender-sensitive pandemic control policies in humanitarian settings that include local women’s organizations within response planning, integrating proactive protection measures for women and girls at risk of experiencing heightened GBV during national lockdowns, use of mobile GBV services, and the implementation of gender-sensitive social safety nets to protect women and girls from the feminization of poverty during and after the pandemic.
The syndemic of COVID-19 and GBV in humanitarian settings is not an inevitable consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather a reflection of ad-hoc pandemic response measures that are implemented on a bedrock of gender inequity.
Adolescent girls and young women are telling us that they are experiencing mental pressure, anxiety and fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has severely disrupted livelihoods, access to health care and adequate nutrition as well as causing a near halt in education for many women, especially in low- and middle-income countries. These circumstances have had a serious impact on their mental wellbeing. In this blog Isabel Quilter and Ellie Taylor explore data generated by Hear Her Voice – a Girl Effect project that followed the stories of 29 young women in India, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nigeria, USA and Malawi. These women are employed as part of Girl Effect’s TEGA programme. TEGA is a girl-operated digital research tool, that trains adolescent girls and young women to be digital researchers.
A recent report from Plan International found that 90% of the 7000 women and girls studied were affected by anxiety due to the pandemic. And the UN has warned of a mental health crisis alongside the physical threat of COVID-19.
As well as anxiety about themselves or their loved ones contracting COVID-19 and receiving false or conflicting information around the virus, young women and girls are affected by deep uncertainty for their futures, as their education pauses and only those with the resources and capabilities are able to participate. In past crises, many girls and young women never returned to school due to issues such as increased domestic responsibilities and teenage pregnancy.
I am feeling like a prisoner because girls of my age generally don’t stay at home due to college, job, or tuition, they go out of their home but due to lockdown, they are not able to come out.
Alishba from India
Hear Her Voice
For this project, rather than interviewing peers, we asked them to turn the camera on themselves. Over six weeks, the TEGAs used video diaries as a space to discuss their thoughts and feelings, describe what they saw around them and discuss hopes and fears for the future. The data gives valuable insight into the emotional journey adolescent girls and young women experienced during lockdown and beyond and how they learned to cope and find unexpected opportunities.
The TEGAs began recording in May, amid strict social distancing measures or full lockdowns. They reported feelings of helplessness, anxiety and fear as the number of COVID-19 positive cases escalated.
There was an immediate need for reliable information to tackle confusion and anxiety, as Nura from Nigeria notes:
There’s so much information going out and it’s hard to keep track of which one is authentic and which one is not…If girls can have, if everyone actually, can have a medium of getting authentic information – I don’t know if that’s possible because every day you hear this and that on social media on the radio on the TV, there’s always news and it can get really overwhelming sometimes.
Nura from Nigeria
TEGAs fear themselves or their loved ones getting sick
Anxiety is commonly reported when it comes to the young womens’ feelings about the spread of the pandemic. Their anxiety was often triggered by the news and social media. The need to be prepared with knowledge was an important defence, but concerns over distinguishing factual information made this a flawed coping mechanism for some. Merci from Malawi describe this feeling of fear and panic:
If I hear of the pandemic, the first thought that I get to have is death. Because I have seen videos with people having difficulties in breathing. My thoughts are like, ”If I catch this virus, will I survive? will my immunity fight against this virus?” I am always filled with fear and worries…
Merci from Malawi
Fears of illness death compounded by constant worries about a lack of money
Being out of work, having to rely on savings and worrying about food insecurity have taken a large toll on the mental wellbeing of some of the young women in the group. Rafi, from Bangladesh, shared hers and her family’s experiences in not being able to meet their nutritional needs:
So, in the case if we are not getting an adequate amount of food, or we are not getting all types of food, we can eat only the essential food: rice and pulses; we are barely surviving on it.
Rafi from Bangladesh
Mental burden is placed on young women in worrying about their futures
Limited access to education was an issue of concern among the young women, and one of the few instances where they showed more concern for their own welfare than those around them. Losing out on education now is predicted to have a massive impact on many of these women’s future educational and work prospects. Emma in the USA was immediately unsure of her future:
At the moment I’m debt free for college. And I would like it to stay that way, but I’m not sure if I can. And that is really really stressful…not knowing if I can finish the degree I’ve started.
Emma from the USA
Feelings of loneliness and frustration due to a lack of social interaction
Shiyona from India echoes many other young women in the study in lamenting the loss of social interactions, not something that can be fully replaced by online communication:
We are in touch with the friends and talk to each other through online chat, WhatsApp calls or normal calls but still we feel the loneliness as there are many things which we want to share with friends which we are unable to share or gossip that makes me disturbed. Since the last two days my mood is completely off due to this.
Shiyona from India
Mental pressure manifested in different ways
From struggling to keep busy to sleeping all day, the girls described how their moods changed and they had good days and bad days. Nishi from Bangladesh expresses her frustration:
Sometimes…I feel really weird! I cannot say it in words. Nothing feels good! I cannot concentrate on anything! I try to keep myself busy, I read books. I read a lot of novels, literature. I watch TV. Give time to my younger brother. Still…after a while, I feel bad. This is what happens!
Nishi from Bangladesh
Jessie from the USA struggles with having bad days when she doesn’t feel like doing anything. She is considering the idea of seeing a specialist as she suspects she might have depression. She thinks, however, her cultural background prevents her from doing so.
In my culture they don’t really believe in that kind of stuff and are not very supportive of it so I don’t want to put myself in that kind of situation.
Jessie from the USA
The destructiveness of the pandemic for these young women should not be understated
The young women described being crippled by the uncertainty of the situation, uncertainty that they would not return to education, that they would be able to earn and support their families and even the uncertainty that they could recover from the disease or be prepared with a vaccine. Emma from the USA sums up the enormity of the impacts the pandemic has had on her:
This virus has taken a lot from us… it has taken our futures.
Emma from the USA
Coping and Resilience
As we followed the young women week after week, after a few weeks of describing feeling overwhelmed by fear and feelings of helplessness and uncertainty, the young women started to talk about the things they had learned about themselves, their strategies to cope, and the positive things they found in their lives during this time.
Simple strategies to help feelings of unease
Activities such as journaling and sharing feelings with friends online were reported as some ways that these young women would try to cope. Nishi in Bangladesh describes the breathing exercise that she employed to cope with her feelings:
I was feeling kind of imprisoned and frustrated. Couldn’t concentrate on anything – studies, household works – nothing…What I did was start taking deep breaths with my eyes closed. Closing my eyes like this…So I breathed like this for 10 minutes or maybe more. So after spending some time in solitude…I started to see that my bad feelings are starting to go away. I returned to my original state.
Nishi from Bangladesh
Family helps many of young women get through this time
While it was common for the young women to report arguments or tension in the house, it was equally as common for them to speak of their family as support networks. As Habiba from Nigeria notes:
What is helping is staying at home with my family. We talk, we laugh together, we do everything together and that makes me very very happy. And that makes me cope with all the fear and the stress I am going through. Staying together with family members all the time makes me feel safe and comfortable.
Habiba from Nigeria
Hobbies, skills and vocations are coping mechanisms
Many young women spoke about positive changes in their life that they were making to cope with both physical realities they were going through, for example in learning a new skill that they could use to make money for their family now or in the future. They expressed the positive mental impact this has also had on their wellbeing. One example of this is Ononna in Bangladesh:
I had very little sewing skills but in the last few months, in the last few days or weeks, I have already started making clothes by learning from a neighbour. And I have learned a good skill – now I know how to make clothes. And I am making clothes for people nearby. And I am earning an amount of money which is my own livelihood to make a contribution to the family.
Ononna from Bangladesh
Nova in Rwanda has also managed to find work that will help her now and in the future, but she expresses concern that this is not the case for many around her:
Some people didn’t have savings and they are now struggling to live because they don’t have work and have no other sources of income. I managed to work on a project of poultry farming so that I can develop myself with what I will earn, buy what I need and develop my working methods.
Nova from Rwanda
Young women are finding ways to cope with the mental pressures triggered by the physical realities around them
The young women who took part were unanimously positive about having been given a platform to speak honestly about their lived experience of lockdown, what they were going through and what they needed. The project itself was seen as helpful for their mental wellbeing by giving them a space to share. Karen in the USA described a sense of community:
I imagine I am just speaking to a community of girls, who and feel and do much of the things that I do…These videos would help them not feel alone, that they are not alone
Karen from the USA
As much as this project told us a story about the resilience and resolve of young women during this global crisis, young women and girls are living precarious lives and need the support of policy makers and NGOs to listen and provide needs based support for their mental health needs. Shiyona in India asked for their stories to be shared as widely as possible to highlight gaps in the COVID-19 response and beyond:
I would like you to share these things with other organisations at a higher-level because so far everyone feels that everything is going very smoothly. And during the lockdown, everyone is getting all things easily, everybody is being taken care of well but in reality, nothing is like that and perhaps the smaller community haven’t raised their voices against this…
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