Resource Compendium

Promoting Intersectional COVID-19 Response Efforts in International Development

Research to date clearly suggests that women and men around the world are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. While women are losing their jobs at higher rates than men, experiencing increased care burdens and domestic violence, and struggling to maintain their businesses, evidence also suggests disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on men’s health. Further, the overlay of other identities including race, disability, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, geography, migration status and other pre-existing structural inequalities and conditions intensifies the impact of COVID-19. This resource compendium highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed varying vulnerabilities of women and men in different groups based on diverse identities and why an intersectional feminist approach to pandemic response efforts within international development is critical. There have been many resources developed and shared throughout 2020 – from policy briefs to podcasts to news articles – that urge for an intersectionality-driven approach to the COVID-19 response.

First, COVID-19 has affected men and women differently. More men are dying than women from COVID-19 around the world; especially men who are older, have disabilities or other chronic health conditions, or are BIPOC are at a higher risk. Both biological and social factors are seemingly causing such disparity.[1]  At the same time the pandemic has had greater negative impacts on women’s physical and mental health and wellbeing due to gender disparities and inequalities, such as increased workload, both paid and unpaid, women’s exposure to the virus as frontline workers, and increased risk of gender-based violence due to lockdown measures and economic stress.[2]

Second, beyond a health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is an economic crisis. Women are concentrated in the economic sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. However, an intersectional approach to the data analysis reveals that the sectors with the most extreme losses are those where non-white women are concentrated. Thus, the economic impacts of the pandemic are being felt differently even amongst women themselves. The emotional and psychological impact of the economic crisis has also put men at higher risks of suicide, given patriarchal norms which often limit or strongly enforce “provider” or “bread-winner” expectations (or roles).[3]

Third, data that is disaggregated by sex but also by race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, sexual orientation, and more is critical to not only identifying issues but enacting data-driven solutions. Such data can reveal disparities between particular groups that were impossible to identify with just sex-disaggregated data. That we have inadequate data on COVID-19 is not new and joint efforts are now being made by various UN agencies, civil society and governments to identify specific areas where data is missing.

Finally, it is critical that response efforts include people of various races, with disabilities, and LGTBQIA+ populations in the design and implementation of assistance. Initial efforts to respond to the pandemic failed because these populations were not considered and there was no one ‘in the room’ to advocate for them. Diverse leadership in response efforts is key to successfully reaching those who are disproportionately impacted.

While efforts by UN Women, USAID, and other donors are under way to support women more broadly during the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that response programs will need to utilize feminist intersectional data and approaches – highlighted by several key takeaways below – to inform improved and more tailored assistance. While an intersectional approach to all developmental issues is important, it is ever more critical during COVID-19 because the use of such an approach could save lives.

Key Takeaways

While there is limited data on the impact of COVID-19 on women with disabilities, initial research indicates that persons with disabilities may experience greater risks with exposure of the virus given that, on average, they have more health-related needs. According to the data from UK government’s Office for National Statistics, almost two-thirds of the individuals who died in England and Wales were people with disabilities. Analysis suggests that younger women and girls with disabilities (aged 9 to 64) were 11.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than non-disabled women and girls in the same age group, and younger men and boys with disabilities were 6.5 times more likely to die than those without disabilities. Women with disabilities have experienced disruptions in essential services during the pandemic and already face more barriers in accessing healthcare than people without disabilities and men with disabilities. For example, women with disabilities are three times more likely to have unmet needs for health care. Despite these challenges, many initial response efforts lacked consideration for women with disabilities and have instead intensified the crisis for them. For instance, preventative measures such as lockdowns contribute to the compounding constraints that many women with disabilities already experience. Other preventative measures, such as moving in-person medical appointments to virtual appointments, reduced the accessibility of basic healthcare for some groups with disabilities.

Recommendations from UN Women include more comprehensive data disaggregated by sex and disability on a range of measures from rate of infection to domestic violence so that policymakers and governments can capture an accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic on people, particularly women with disabilities. The research conducted by Promundo-US further suggests breaking down all health data by sex as well as age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, employment, location, disability, sexuality, and gender identity and should be made publicly available by the government “to improve how they are responding to COVID-19 and its societal fallout.”

Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people  of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating deeply rooted structural inequalities they experience. They are overrepresented in low-wage occupations which lack social protection such as paid sick leave or insurance and are disproportionately affected by poverty. Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are also more likely to contract the disease due to higher concentration in essential service sector jobs with precarious work conditions than their White counterparts. BAME women are overrepresented in healthcare, with proportionally twice as many BAME individuals working for the National Health Service as in the rest of the economy. The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics found that Black men and women were over four times more likely than white men and women to die from COVID-19. The American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that almost twice as many Black and Hispanic individuals were hospitalized with COVID-19 than are proportionally represented in the community.  Both news outlets and academic journals have recognized that these disparities are attributable in large part to structural and social inequalities, including types of employment, living conditions, number of people per household and pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. For minority groups in the United States, lack of health care due to the cost of health insurance may contribute to both pre-existing health conditions and higher COVID-19 mortality rates. Also, as health care systems have diverted resources from reproductive and sexual health care services, many women of color have been left without access to key services such as family planning, maternal health care and safe abortions.

In response to these challenges, financing organizations and charities need to apply a racial justice lens to their funding and project implementation. Firstly, organizations should partner with organizations led by and in deep relationships with Black, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinx, and Native American communities. Secondly, they should ensure that alongside funding organizations delivering direct service programs, they also support the ecosystem of organizations that build the civic, cultural, and political power of communities of color. Finally, they should support grantee’s long-term stability and growth, for example in the form of flexible, multi-year grants.

As most global frameworks guiding responses use a narrow gender framing, almost always limited to women and girls, the specific constraints and barriers for LGTBQIA+ community is often overlooked. High involvement of the community in the informal sector and on daily wages has resulted in significant loss of income and rising food insecurity. Even prior to the pandemic, LGTBQIA+ faced struggles in accessing health care and the situation has been aggravated due to COVID-19. Disruptions in access to HIV-related medication, hormone therapies and other care is also a growing concern. UNAIDS, the LGBT+ Foundation and researchers from John Hopkins surveyed over 20,000 LGBTI people in 138 countries in April and May. About 21% participants with HIV reported experiencing interruptions to refills antiretroviral therapy and 42% of these said they had less than a month’s supply on hand. Disproportionate mental health risks for LGTBQIA+  is also a cause for concern as they face increased challenges in addition to COVID-19. The abuse of power by state authorities has increased reasons to delay discussions on LGTBQIA+ issues, as dealing with pandemic has overshadowed all other human right issues. Higher risk of violence is also experienced during lockdown and quarantine with unsupportive household members. The inability to connect with communities during this time is creating increased fear and anxiety. Fears of scapegoating and stigma and being blamed for crises, especially by religious leaders, is already being observed in many countries. COVID-19 is also limiting movements and critical work in advocacy and concerns that this could set back the progress made in recent years.

Recommendations include the involvement of LGTBQIA+ in response strategies, access services and law and policy. For donors, this means remaining committed to the initial support and contributing to relief funds, ensuring inclusivity. For UN and private sector agencies, engaging with communities to develop safe information and ensuring services can be accessed by LGTBQIA+ is vital. While the picture is bleak, we need to ensure that policy and decision makers include LGTBQIA+ people in all response strategies and relief efforts.

While women are less likely to die from the virus, they are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis and their jobs are more likely to be in high-risk occupations. In the UK, women make up the majority of frontline workers, the majority of the low paid and the majority of people who do paid and unpaid care work. Of the 3 million people in jobs classified as high risk in the UK, 77% are women and a million of them are being paid below the poverty line. Women are over-represented in jobs currently designated as ‘key workers’ compared to men, including front-line health care, food production and service and other public facing roles. Many of these jobs are precarious and workers are at risk of losing hours and income. Workers in healthcare, majority of whom are women, have also high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Lack of sufficient personal protective equipment, poor hygiene conditions, and insufficient testing capacity has led to high death rates among health workers.

Estimates by ILO indicate nearly 55 million domestic workers are at risk of losing jobs, 37 million of whom are women. Women comprising a significant proportion of the sector are not only underpaid but also experience additional burden, risk of gender-based and other forms of violence due to the current situation. Domestic workers are by and large women (upwards of 90% across multiple regions), employed informally, under precarious conditions and without access to social protection. For example, Asia’s urbanizing economies have increased the demand for domestic work for women and in Latin America and the Caribbean, 93% of the domestic workers are women majority of whom operate informally. Since the pandemic, however, in many cases contracts have been cancelled, as well as reductions in working time and pay. ILO estimated about 70% of domestic workers are affected by quarantine measures due to COVID-19.

While COVID-19’s impact on care workers who are predominantly women has been rightly highlighted, what has been less visible is men’s significant contribution as essential workers in male-dominated service sectors such as transportation, funeral services, security, postal services, logistics and waste management where maintaining physical distance is difficult and death rates are higher, especially for BIPOC who are overrepresented in such low-paid jobs. An analysis suggests that men in low-paid jobs are almost four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than men in other professions, while women caregivers are twice as likely to die than those in other professions. Demand for care work has significantly increased since the pandemic, and pre-existing inequalities in relation to care have gained sharp focus after the start of the pandemic. A joint report by Promundo and Oxfam suggests that while the post-COVID situation has led to more men engaging in domestic work in the US, the unpaid care burden is still borne largely by women. While gender inequalities persist in domestic care work, COVID-19 has created conditions for men to take on more work as research suggests. Remote work, reduced work hours or unemployment has increased the time spent by men on housework and child care. According to the UK Office for National Statistics gender gap in unpaid care work has reduced slightly but still remains large, with women reducing their time spent in unpaid work by 20 minutes while men have increased it by 22 minutes.

Early in the pandemic, public health messaging focused on the high risk and susceptibility of the elderly to COVID-19. What was less clear was the knock-on and unanticipated economic effects for youth, particularly young women. Youth will bear the brunt of short and long-term economic implications of the pandemic. The World Bank notes that initial estimates reflecting young people’s employability pre-pandemic, already suggested that around 600 million young people entering the labor market may not find a job, so a recession further complicates that. According to the ILO, the rapid increase in youth unemployment is affecting young women more than young men. In these current employment contexts, young people are generally already likely to be more heavily employed in the informal sector, and therefore less able to access public stimulus packages. The health sector, where women are heavily employed, is also one of the largest employers of young people, where employment rates have risen faster for young people than for any other age group. UNICEF has also warned of a ‘lost generation,' with limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and lack of positive coping mechanisms (e.g. community initiatives, sports clubs) leading to mental health challenges, as well as high risk of domestic violence, GBV and sexual exploitation. Lack of social contact during lockdown has also had severe impact on all youth- young men and boys and young women and girls. In a survey conducted in the UK, 87% of respondents said they had felt lonely or isolated during lockdown and 83% of young people with pre-existing mental health needs said that their mental health worsened due to the COVID crisis. The disruption of youth education will also have severe consequences: depriving young people of social support, compromising their nutrition, increasing dropout rates, which also doubly applies for students with disabilities who are unlikely to access assistive devices and accessible platforms. However, lessons learned from the Ebola response have demonstrated the willingness and power of young people to mobilize communities, change behaviors and distribute essential items to quarantined people. Case in point – Oxfam’s Empower Youth for Work Programme found that youth can be critical community mobilizers and are often at the forefront of the future of work and are not daunted by remote technologies.

Beyond physical health risks, elderly women have also face differentiated, and often ignored challenges during the pandemic. New research has suggested that while older women may have lower mortality rates, they may also suffer from long lasting symptoms of COVID-19. Older women are also disproportionately represented as both paid and unpaid care workers. With older women also being more likely to be home-based caregivers for other elderly family members, this also raises infection risks. Long-term care facilities are also reliant on low-paid older women workers, who are often migrant workers, with limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and less secure access to social protection systems. Elderly women are also more impacted by social distancing measures, often isolating them which has detrimental mental health effects. Research from earlier recessions in the US, has also shown that Black senior citizens faced huge financial losses, with widows also at risk. When we consider the impacts of Covid on different age groups, it is imperative we look past just the physical health data and examine some of the still emerging but interlinked, mental health and socio-economic factors for youth and elderly.

The pandemic has brought on extremely worrying global trends, unprecedented increases of unpaid care work, astronomical increases to levels of domestic violence, femicide, online sexual exploitation and cyber harassment. Regionally, distinctive socio-economic trends have also emerged for women. In Latin America and the Caribbean, with the Caribbean especially being so heavily dependent on tourism, and women in particular often found in tourism or tourism-adjacent sectors, with billions of cancellations, women face huge job losses. The region’s domestic workers (approximately 16.7 million) often had to choose between quarantining with their employers or losing their jobs and staying home. Similarly, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly in Lebanon, where there are approximately 250,000 domestic (and often migrant) workers contracted in the kafala system, lockdowns posed huge risks of labor exploitation and trafficking, in addition to economic uncertainty. Regionally, CARE has found that women in MENA may lose more than 700,000 jobs due to COVID. An interesting nuance to these numbers is in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel (OPTI), where Oxfam in OPTI found that in Gaza, women-owned medium-sized enterprises could often make the necessary health and safety investments but micro-SMEs either had to minimize or pause their operations, drastically curtailing their profits.

In Asia, job losses have also been exponential, particularly for women garment workers. In Bangladesh for example, 65% of all garment workers are women, and across the region, especially in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Myanmar, millions of women are now unemployed or have had their hours drastically reduced. In some cases, women’s producer groups, especially artisan-based groups, have been able to transition to mask making, as was the case in Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme in Nepal. Globally, market disruptions have harmed many small and largescale businesses. In Uganda, women market vendors faced strict lockdown measures, losing their ability to sell their goods, and also being targets of violence due to violent enforcement of lockdowns. In Zimbabwe, smallholder farmers also faced steep losses as market shutdowns were affected by limited mobility and access. Oxfam in Nigeria, UN Women and CARE also described the severe disruption of women’s collectives to meet for income-generating activities and the inability for cash for work programmes to continue safely in humanitarian contexts.

 This Resource Compendium was compiled by the Intersectionality subgroup of the
SEEP Women's Economic Empowerment Working Group:

Thank you to Caroline Rubin (Nathan Associates), Maryam Piracha (PRISMA), Mansi Anand (Oxfam),
Aissa Boodhoo (Oxfam), Jennifer Denomy (MEDA) and Julia Hakspiel (MarketShare Associates). 

 [1] Ruxton, S., & Burrell, S. R. (2020). Masculinities and COVID-19: Making the Connections. Washington, DC: Promundo-US:
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid 



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