Gender, Data and COVID-19

August 5, 2020

Margarita Vaca

August 05, 2020

Six months have passed since the World Health Organization declared on July 30th the international public health emergency due to the COVID-19 breakout. The total reconfiguration that the pandemic has generated is one of the greatest challenges of the last decades for all governments and societies.

During this short, but challenging period, there have been several outstanding lessons learned. On the one hand, no country was prepared to face a situation like this, since factors such as poorly qualified health systems, the abuse of government power, the weakness of political systems or economic fragility have demonstrated structural gaps worldwide. 

On the other hand, the need for timely data on the reality of a country and its inhabitants has become evident in order to make decisions aimed at closing information and inequality gaps. This has highlighted the importance of the National Statistical Offices in each country, as well as the different Ministries and government Agencies in charge of collecting, processing, analyzing and / or disseminating information. In this sense, data has allowed to monitor the progress of the pandemic, identifying critical points that require resources, prioritizing the most vulnerable populations, and building baselines to generate strategies for improving operations and mitigating the crisis. 

Finally, COVID-19 highlights the role of women in all dimensions of society, but also their high level of exposure. In the fight against the virus, women represent 67% of health professionals worldwide. Overall, however, there is an average gender pay gap of approximately 28% in the health workforce (WHO, 2019).

Likewise, women perform 76.2% of unpaid care work, that is, 3.2 times more than men (ILO, 2018a). This unpaid work has increased with the compulsory closure of kindergartens and schools that has transferred education from school to home and, with it, greater responsibility for parents, a responsibility that usually falls on women. Regarding paid work, informal employment is the highest income source for 58.1% of women (ILO, 2018b) [SPA]. 

It is clear that individual well-being depends not only on income, but also on capacity development and the freedom of choice of each person, including how time is spent. Therefore, time use surveys become a fundamental tool to promote gender equality by knowing how many minutes or hours are spent on paid and unpaid work, leisure and self-care by sex.

Unfortunately, in Latin America and the Caribbean it has been found that women spend more time than men in unpaid domestic and care work. This can impact the economic autonomy of women by limiting their participation in the labor market and reducing their access to social security (ECLAC, 2019).

These conditions may worsen due to exposure to family violence, which is exacerbated by concerns related to safety, health and economic stability. Between April 2019 and April 2020, 243 million women and girls (ages 15-49) worldwide had suffered sexual or physical violence from a partner (UN Women, 2020).

This is an example of the importance of gender data analysis in the midst of the pandemic. The new social dynamics, in which women are taking a leading role, demand not only the disaggregation of data by sex and age, but also the analysis of the interaction between gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status and other categories of social differentiation (intersectionality) that allow to carry out a more detailed analysis and to identify gender equality levels from household chores to participation in the labor market.

In the health field, having disaggregated gender data provides inputs to answer questions such as why are men more likely to die from COVID-19? In a World Health Organization report that analyzed more than 74,000 cases, 60% of the COVID-19 patients who died were men.

Although the need for disaggregated gender data is clear, it is pertinent to mention that, in some cases, data tends not to be neutral, given that it is linked to a specific cultural-political context that responds to the interests and priorities of certain actors (See COVID-19 Data: gender neutral?) [SPA]. In this way, its objectivity and disaggregation decrease, preventing the correct interpretation of the current state of the pandemic or producing partial analyzes that hinder policy formulation in the short and medium term.

All actors, from government to the community itself, must join efforts to strengthen their capacities in the production and analysis of disaggregated gender data that respond to both the current crisis and the post-pandemic, beginning with the scientific and medical research, the interoperability of systems between institutions, the creation of applications that promote the collection of citizens generated data [SPA] that complement official statistics in each country.

Reference documents and websites 

COVID-19 en la vida de las mujeres – Razones para reconocer los impactos diferenciados | Organization of American States – Inter-American Commission of Women, OAS – CIM (2020)

COVID-19: G7 nations need to get gender equality right for a better future for women at work | International Labor Organization (2020)

Observatorio COVID-19 en América Latina y el Caribe – Medidas para mitigar el impacto del COVID- 19 – Sección Género | Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean – ECLAC (2020)

Other blogs of the series

COVID-19: The role of National Statistical Offices during the pandemic | July 24, 2020

COVID-19: A new challenge for the UN for peacekeeping | June 25, 2020

COVID-19 | Notes to redesign the global order: Health and Well-Being (SDG 3) | June 11, 2020

COVID-19 | Notes to redesign the global order: fight hunger |May 27, 2020

COVID-19 | Notes to redesign the global order: eradicate poverty (SDG 1) | May 22, 2020

Where to go?: COVID-19 and migration | May 15, 2020

COVID-19 | Notes to redesign the global order: International Law | May 7, 2020

Human Development in the times of COVID-19: a collaborative challenge | May 5, 2020

Covid-19: Notes to redesign the global order: 2030 Agenda | April 29, 2020

COVID19 – Notes to redesign the global order: transparency | April 21, 2020

Covid-19: Optimistic or pessimistic, don’t try to rebuild the world after the pandemic | April 13, 2020

Covid-19: Financing, now! | March 27, 2020

Covid-19: Financing versus Financing | March 26, 2020

Covid-19: The Price of Unfulfilled Promises | March 26, 2020

COVID-19: It’s foolishness, stupid! | March 20, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and the virtual limitations of development governance | March 18, 2020

What does COVID-19 tell us about Sustainable Development and the 2030 Agenda? | March 11, 2020

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