Resource Compendium

Promoting Intersectional COVID-19 Response Efforts in International Development

Research to date clearly suggests that women around the world are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. They are losing their jobs at higher rates than men, experiencing increased care burdens and domestic violence, and struggling to maintain their businesses. 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 disproportionate vulnerabilities of diverse groups and why an intersectional 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, beyond a health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is an economic crisis impacting women globally. 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 disproportionately even amongst women themselves.

Second, sex-disaggregated data also disaggregated by race, ethnicity, age, disabilities, sexual orientation, and more is critical to not only identifying issues but enacting data-driven solutions. Disaggregated 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 women of various races, with disabilities, and LGBTQI populations in the design and implementation of assistance. Initial efforts 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 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. 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 gender 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 women with disabilities. Further, response efforts should be tailored not just to whether or not a woman has a disability, but also to the type of disability so that efforts address the needs of each specific disability group. In order to ensure this, it is critical that women with disabilities are represented in decision-making processes for response efforts.

Women and girls of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for a number of reasons. Firstly, women of color are overrepresented in low-wage occupations which lack social protection such as paid sick leave or insurance and are disproportionately affected by poverty. Secondly, women represent the majority of frontline workers in the healthcare and caregiving sector. Thirdly, COVID-19 women and girls are at increased risk of domestic violence due to travel restrictions and mandatory lockdowns currently in place in many countries. Finally, 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.

Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, both in likelihood of contracting the disease and in the severity of its outcome. 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.

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 also affected in different ways. Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority women are overrepresented in healthcare, with proportionally twice as many BAME individuals working for the National Health Service as in the rest of the economyAcross all ethnic groups, 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.

As most global frameworks guiding responses use a narrow gender framing, almost always limited to women and girls, the specific constraints and barriers for LGBTIQ 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, LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ 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 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 LGBTIQ 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 LGBTIQ is vital. While the picture is bleak, we need to ensure that policy and decision makers include LGBTIQ people in all response strategies and relief efforts.

Domestic Workers (DW) have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 risks as well as pre-existing deep-rooted inequalities in the sector. Estimates by ILO indicate nearly 55 million people 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. In Africa, the informal economy provides employment for almost 90% of the employed women. Asia’s urbanizing economies are increasing the demand for domestic work for women between 1.7 million to 2.8 million only in Indonesia and Philippines, most of whom are women and girls. However, there is a lack of laws and regulations that sufficiently recognize the sector and increases their vulnerability to COVID-19. In Europe, domestic work provides 8 million people jobs with 91% being women. However, 70% of DW is delivered by undeclared workers under informal employment. In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 11 and 18 million people are engaged in paid domestic work. 93% of these are women. Domestic work accounts for 14.3% and 10.5% of women's employment in the region. However, over 77.5% operate in the informal sector, which means that a significant proportion of them work in precarious conditions and without access to social protection. 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. Though these contexts are diverse and unique to each region, the common thread is the high engagement of women in the DW industry and the significant challenges they face as a result of COVID-19 in addition to their usual lack of access to skills, services and adequate benefits. Decision makers must consider the status of DW in the creation and of policies as they continue to be at the forefront of this battle being fought by all economies.

Early in the pandemic, public health messaging was very strong to highlight 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 a find a job, so a recession further complicates that. 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. 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 Carribbean, 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
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). 


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