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Women face the brunt of all public health crises, but Covid-19 makes action plans more urgent

By – Angela Riccitello

[JIG Covid-19 Series] – In 2014, 75 percent of the Ebola outbreak’s fatalities in West Africa were women, wrote UN Women.  Due to women’s care-giving professions, they have historically endured the brunt of public health pandemics, highlighting the need to address systemic gender inequality. However, with lockdowns happening across the globe, Covid-19 introduced a second pandemic, the “Shadow Pandemic” of domestic violence, making the need for sufficient action plans even more urgent.

Covid-19’s impact is greater than Ebola’s

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa exposed health and socioeconomic disparities for women. Like Covid-19, Ebola affected men and women differently, with women receiving the brunt of infection rates and high exposure. According to a study by NCBI, there are no biological differences in gender that increased Ebola susceptibility. Rather, levels of exposure varied. Women’s caregiving roles in both the community and at home deem gender as a significant risk factor when developing health programs and response plans. However, in addition to financial strains and higher vulnerability to infection, Covid-19 added another dimension of gender-based violence.

243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced sexual or physical violence in the last year, according to the UN

In addition to the 243 million women and girls who have endured violence likely by a family member or an intimate partner, written in the UN Women’s report, this number is predicted to increase as the Covid-19 crisis prolongs. Worldwide lockdowns resulted in cramped living conditions layered with financial tensions, taking its toll on women’s safety and well-being. The UN Women’s report mentions specific statistical increases in violence. In France, domestic violence increased 30% since lockdown began. In Argentina, emergency calls for domestic violence increased by 25%, and 30% in both Cyprus and Singapore. There has been reported demands for shelter and more increases in domestic violence evident in all of Canada, Germany, Spain, the UK and the US. Both Ebola and Covid-19 had dire fatalities for women, but Covid-19’s added dimension of detrimentally higher GBV rates calls for diligent action plans.

Recommendations to prevent gendered physical and mental fatalities

As women make up about 70 percent of frontline workers, it is crucial to adhere to UN recommendations from their report, “Covid-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls.” Some of these include to strengthen services for women who experience violence during the pandemic and have more services available to prevent impunity of perpetrators and improve responses. Women should be prioritized during the policy process as well as the collection of sex-disaggregated data to emphasize the impact Covid-19 has on gender-based violence and to ensure the development of sufficient response plans.

In accordance with the NCBI’s findings as well, financial and time investments into implementing adequate health policies are non-negotiable to ensure lessons are learned from past pandemics. Although diseases do not discriminate, their impacts do.





NCBI, “The perspective of gender on the Ebola virus using a risk management and population health framework: a scoping review”

UN Women, “Covid-19: Women front and centre”

UN Women, “Covid-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls”



*This story is part of the Covid-19 gender-based violence journalism series, produced by the Journalism Initiative on Gender-Based Violence (JiG), an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership. The Series is produced by Angela Riccitello (Writer) and Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson (Editor). Riccitello is the journalism intern at JiG and a journalism graduate at Rutgers University. Lagipoiva is the Chief Editor of JiG and the CWGL Visiting Global Associate.