UNICEF is committed to ensuring that gender data and analysis are integrated into country level assessments and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. While new data collection on the socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19 must prioritise sex-and age disaggregated data to measure the gendered impacts of the pandemic on adults and children, existing data suggests that Covid-19 will deepen existing gender inequalities.

School closures can have devastating effects on girls

As schools close during the Covid-19 crisis, the gains girls have made in education over the last 25 years, particularly in enrolment and learning outcomes, are at risk of dissipating, especially if closures are protracted. Schools also are often one of the strongest social networks for adolescent girls, providing peers and mentors, and when girls are cut off from these networks, their risk of violence increases. In contexts where gender norms may preclude girls from accessing the household infrastructure and digital platforms needed for remote learning, such as computers, smartphones and the internet, they may fall behind their male peers while schools are closed. And when schools do reopen, many girls may not return, as observed during the Ebola crisis.

For many women and girls, staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic can be dangerous

In more than one third of countries with comparable data, at least one in four ever-partnered adolescent girls have experienced recent intimate partner violence. As the COVID-19 pandemic combines with economic and social stresses and measures to restrict contact and movement, women and girls are at a greater risk of physical, sexual, and psychological violence. Crowded homes, substance abuse and reduced access to peer support may further exacerbate these conditions. Indeed, dozens of countries have already reported an increase in violence against women since the outbreak of Covid-19.[1] In addition, life-saving care and support to GBV survivors, including the clinical management of rape and mental health and psycho-social support, may be disrupted in tertiary level hospitals when health service providers are overburdened and preoccupied with handling COVID-19 cases.

The loss of household income and protracted school closures may also place adolescent girls at an increased risk of child marriage during the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, 1 in 4 young women are married as children today.

Too few adolescent girls receive essential maternal health care and many girls needs for family planning remain unmet

Efforts to contain public health outbreaks often divert resources from routine health services, including essential maternal health care and family planning, compromising continuity of care and potentially increasing unintended pregnancies and morbidity and mortality. Fear of Covid-19 infection may also prevent individuals from seeking necessary care. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to health service closures. Globally, maternal conditions, such as haemorrhage, sepsis and obstructed labour, are the leading cause of mortality among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19.[2] Yet, just over 1 in 2 pregnant adolescent girls receive at least 4 antenatal care visits, worldwide. And 4 in 10 adolescent girls’ needs for modern contraceptives remain unmet, globally.[3] As economic livelihoods are threatened during the Covid-19 pandemic, girls may also engage in transactional sex as a survival mechanism, further increasing their risks of unintended pregnancy.

Adolescent girls bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic

As countries divert resources to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that access to HIV testing and an uninterrupted supply of lifesaving antiretroviral medication will be disrupted. Adolescent girls, who already bear the brunt of the HIV epidemic, globally, are particularly vulnerable to these service disruptions. In sub-Saharan Africa, where four times as many adolescent girls are newly infected with HIV than adolescent boys, only 1 in 3 adolescent girls aged 15–19 years with multiple partners use condoms; less than a third have comprehensive knowledge of HIV. And even fewer (15 per cent) have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months and received the results. In the face of lost household income due to the pandemic, girls may also engage in transactional sex as a survival mechanism, further increasing their risks of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Women and girls tend to carry out most of the care for sick relatives, household chores and childcare responsibilities

In more than five of six countries with available data, girls aged 10–14 years are more likely than boys of the same age to spend 21 or more hours on household chores per week, an amount potentially harmful to children’s physical, social, psychological or educational development. As unpaid care work increases during the Covid pandemic, the gender imbalance is likely to be further exacerbated if girls, confined to home, are called upon to cook, clean, care for sick family members and assist younger children with remote learning, jeopardizing their own opportunities to learn.

Gender resources on Covid-19

References

[1]  United Nations, Policy Brief: The Impact of Covid-19 on Women and Girls. United Nations, 2020.

[2]  World Health Organization, Global Health Estimates 2015: Deaths by cause, age, sex, by country and by region, 2000–2015, WHO, Geneva, 2016.

[3] Aggregates calculated by United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division from survey data compiled in World Contraceptive Use 2019 (POP/ DB/CP/Rev2019).