Health workers put on their personal protective equipment before treating people suspected of having Ebola at the Ebola Transition Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. © World Bank/Vincent Tremeau
Health workers put on their personal protective equipment before treating people suspected of having Ebola at the Ebola Transition Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. © World Bank/Vincent Tremeau

Gender norms and the coronavirus

[Jump to Covid-19 and... Cross-cutting themes | Domestic labour | Education | Gender-based violence | Intersectionality | Masculinities | Mental health | Political voice | Work/livelihoods]

There is now emerging a wealth of commentary on the gendered implications of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. We know that crises can spur new ways of behaving, sometimes leading to shifts in gender norms and underpinning sustained change towards gender equality. But with the fast spreading coronavirus pandemic many gender inequalities have already been intensified as existing discriminatory and harmful norms continue or worsen in the face of change such as violence against women, which has intensified globally under lockdowns and in the face of economic stress.

Recovery periods after crises can provide an opportunity to ‘do things differently’ and to build more equitable systems and societies. However, there is a risk that progress towards more equitable norms can slip back as the demands of recovery take precedence.  Ensuring gender equality advances and preventing backsliding will require understanding the leverage points for changing different inequitable gender norms which will vary by society and issue. Cross-sectoral social and gender impact assessments that identify the strengths and vulnerabilities of different social groups, and real-time norms-monitoring surveys could be key tools. 

While the most important supportive policies will vary by context, social protection is emerging world-wide as critically important in cushioning the economic effects of virus containment strategies, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society including excluded women, children and people of non-binary genders.

ALIGN is currently analysing what leads to shifts in gender norms both during and after crises to enhance knowledge and innovation among our community, and we will be sharing new resources as they become available. 

Highlighted below are resources produced by ALIGN and our partners relating to Covid-19 and gender norms. 

If you have any research or graphics you would like to share related to this, please do get in touch with the team or post a comment in the discussion box at the bottom of the page.

Gender and Covid-19 working group

ALIGN is a partner in the gender and Covid-19 working group, a global group of researchers, health practitioners, policy actors, and advocates who share resources and expertise on topics related to gender equity, women’s empowerment, human rights, and Covid-19. The working group includes expertise ranging from the biomedical sciences to the humanities. The group meets online on the third Wednesday of every month to discuss key issues, activities, opportunities, and ideas for collaboration, and key norms relevant content will be highlighted here on the ALIGN Platform.

Visit the Gender Working Group website to find out more.


Resources by theme

[Jump to Covid-19 and... Cross-cutting themes | Domestic labour | Education | Gender-based violence | Intersectionality | Masculinities | Mental health | Political voice | Work/livelihoods]

Cross-cutting themes

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Domestic labour

Covid-19 has laid bare once again the inequalities of domestic work, from working women struggling with full time jobs, providing three meals a day, supervising home education for their children and turning cleaners at night, to the millions of domestic workers and cleaners laid off across the world, some without means to even feed themselves. Whilst many men are stepping up to domestic work and child supervision, women still bear the brunt of domestic labour and the effects of the covid-19 disturbance.

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In most countries schools have closed as a strategy to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Evidence from previous emergencies indicates that girls, particularly adolescents, are at greater risk of not returning after protracted closures. There are also clear equity implications of some of the most common efforts to maintain schooling access. 

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Gender-based violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a global pandemic that already affects 35% of women at some point in their lifetime. Evidence shows that women, girls and other vulnerable groups are at increased risk of GBV during public health crises, including sexual violence, abuse and exploitation. Reports already suggest three-fold increases in GBV in the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, which may have different causes, such as increased household economic stress, or lack of access to support during social distancing and lockdowns.  Whilst there will be an inevitable rise of domestic violence under lockdown, efforts to address the roots of violence, such as discriminatory gender norms, rather than just the symptoms are now essential.   

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It is increasingly recognised that Covid-19 often magnifies existing inequalities, with marginalised groups most at risk of contracting the disease, dying, and most affected by disease control measures. Different aspects of people’s identities and social position (such as gender, race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic class or location) intersect and influence their experience of Covid-19. The specifics vary but a common thread is policies and approaches designed without sufficient attention to discriminatory norms and practices, and to issues affecting particular groups. This set of resources explores these impacts, and approaches to mitigate them in more detail. 

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Men, boys and masculinities

The effects of Covid-19 on women’s rights, empowerment and wellbeing depends, in part, on the ways in which the norms of currently harmful masculinities adapt and respond to crisis. Harmful behaviours and attitudes already affect women’s wellbeing and any progress on changing harmful masculinities may be stalled during this pandemic. Meanwhile men’s own health and wellbeing is affected by norms of masculinity, with some suggesting that men’s norms of behaviour are influencing their proclivity to contract and die from the coronavirus. The articles and resources here focus on men and masculinities, their health and wellbeing and masculine norms which determine women and girl’s health and wellbeing.

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Mental health 

The mental health effects of Covid-19 (including suicide) have featured widely in the news. To date these stories have come mostly from the countries which are currently facing the largest burden of the pandemic (e.g. UK and US) as well as countries that have started emerging from it (e.g. China). 

Here we aim to highlight some resources which explore the effects of the pandemic on the intersection of mental health and gender norms. Underlying this is the notion that when norms are discriminatory they may have an amplified effect on the mental health stresses caused by Covid-19. While there have been many valuable resources providing guidance and advise on how to deal with the mental health related stress caused by the pandemic on different population groups (children, adolescents, health workers, older people etc.), there has been less (to date) which directly explores how norms may be effecting mental health issues related to Covid-19, especially in low income countries - contexts where discriminatory gender norms are arguably more pronounced. 

Some of this is no doubt cross-cutting and will be picked up in discussions, for instance, around intimate partner violence and health. Nevertheless it is important to highlight here some key resources from a range of different contexts which focus on the mental health effects of Covid-19 and norms.

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Political voice and leadership

Women make up the majority of the health workforce and face the brunt of many of its social impacts but hold less than a quarter of leadership roles in global health. While some female ministers and leaders are leading aspects of the response, public health leadership lacks gender balance at the highest levels and across key ministries charged with leading the response, reflective of wider gender gaps in women's voice and leadership in policymaking and politics. Covid-19 presents an opportunity to understand and address these gaps, while challenges remain in addressing the norm-based barriers to women in decision-making given the urgency of today's crisis.

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As well as putting people in particular occupations at risk, Covid-19 is having immense impacts on people’s ability to work and generate livelihoods. Given high levels of gender segregation in many sectors, these effects are often gendered. The articles in this section focus on the effects of Covid-19 on informal sector workers, a group in which women are often over-represented, and on workers in specific sectors.