Gender, data and COVID-19

March 8, 2021

Margarita Vaca

March 8, 2021

As part of the celebration of International Women’s Day, we highlight the need for timely gender data that reflects the reality of the countries and their population, to make decisions aimed at closing information gaps and inequality. During the pandemic, the data has made it possible to monitor the progress of the epidemic, identify critical points that require resources, prioritize the most vulnerable populations, and build baselines to generate strategies for improving operations and mitigating the pandemic.

COVID-19 reveals hidden facts regarding gender roles, in the actions of women in all dimensions of society, including their high level of exposure to the virus. In the fight against the pandemic, women represent 67% of health professionals worldwide. Nonetheless, there is an average gender pay gap of approximately 28% in the healthcare workforce (WHO, 2019).

Likewise, women perform 76.2% of unpaid care work, 3.2 times more than men (ILO, 2018a). This unpaid work has increased with the mandatory closure of nurseries and schools that has moved education from school to home. The consequence has given an increased level of involvement from parents in the education of their children, a role that usually falls on women.

In regards to paid work, informal employment is the source of the highest income for 58.1% of women (ILO, 2018b).

It is clear that individual well-being does not only rely on income, but also on the development of capacities and the freedom of choice of each person, including how time is spent. For this reason, time-use surveys are a fundamental tool in promoting gender equality, by providing information on how many minutes or hours they spend on paid and unpaid work, leisure and self-care by gender.

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

These conditions can be worsened by exposure to domestic violence, which is exacerbated by concerns related to safety, health, and economic stability. Around 243 million women and girls (between 15 and 49 years old) in the world have been victims of sexual or physical violence by a romantic partner (UN Women, 2020).

This is an example of the importance of gender data analysis [1] 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 social intersectional categories that, even though they have complex relationships between them, allow for a more detailed analysis, and identify levels of gender equality [2] from household chores to participation in the labor market.

In the healthcare field, having gender-disaggregated data provides inputs to answer questions such as: why are men more likely to die from COVID-19? In a World Health Organization report analyzing more than 74,000 cases, 60% of 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, the data may not be neutral, given that they are subject to a specific cultural-political context that responds to the interests and priorities of certain actors (see COVID-19 Data: Gender Neutral?). This way, the objectivity and disaggregation loses value, preventing the correct interpretation of the current state of the pandemic or producing partial conclusions that hinder the formulation of policies.

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

Reference documents and web pages

COVID-19 in the lives of women – Reasons to recognize the differentiated impacts by Organization of American States – Inter-American Commission of Women | OAS – CIM (2020)

COVID-19: G7 Nations Must Enforce Gender Equality To Better Future For Women At Work | International Labor Organization (2020)

COVID-19: Gender gaps in the labor market | Javeriana University, Gender and Economy and the National Administrative Department of Statistics (2020)

COVID-19 Observatory in Latin America and the Caribbean – Measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 – Gender Section| Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean – ECLAC (2020)

[1] Systematic methodology to examine the differences between women and men, and girls and boys. These differences include gender roles, levels of power, and opportunities.

[2] They occur when women and men can develop their potential having equal opportunities and rights. It also implies women and men can benefit equally from resources and policies.


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