New tool tracks how policies are protecting women during COVID-19

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An apparel worker at a factory that reopened amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Fahad Abdullah Kaizer / UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

SAN FRANCISCO — New data reveals that most countries are not taking a comprehensive approach to protecting women from the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only 25 countries have responded across the three areas measured — tackling violence against women and girls, supporting unpaid care, and strengthening women’s economic security — according to the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, which UN Women and the U.N. Development Programme launched Monday.

The dashboard aims to monitor progress and share best practices in order to support countries in developing social protection and employment responses that prioritize gender equality.

Governments are prioritizing efforts to prevent or respond to violence against women and girls, with 71% of all government actions identified in the tracker, or 704 measures across 135 countries, focused on this issue.

“The pandemic will have long-lasting consequences on women and girls, on their exposure to violence, and only commitments that are part of governments’ sustained and long-term planning policies can effectively address this,” Sarah Hendriks, director of Programme, Policy and Intergovernmental Division at UN Women said at a launch event for the tracker.

A screengrab from the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker demonstrates which African countries have introduced hotlines and reporting mechanisms as a way of strengthening services for girls and women who are experiencing increasing levels of violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She highlighted how only 48 countries, less than one-quarter of those analyzed, are integrating these efforts to prevent or respond to violence against women and girls as an integral part of their COVID-19 response.

While Hendriks and her colleagues at UN Women pointed to examples that emerge from the tracker, they are also using the dataset as a call to action for governments to address other challenges women are facing in the context of COVID-19.

Argentina is working to protect women from violence as part of a more comprehensive approach to promoting gender equality, according to Elisabeth Gómez Alcorta, Argentina’s minister of women, gender, and diversity, who spoke at a launch event for the tracker.

“We at the ministry are aware that violence is preceded, and to a large extent motivated by, situations of structural inequality between genders,” she said in remarks that were translated.

Argentina has taken eight measures to address women’s economic security, five to target unpaid care work, and 13 to address violence against women, according to the tracker.

“Governments have really stepped up and been able to deliver things we were told were impossible just a few months ago.”

—  Laura Turquet, policy adviser, UN Women

This new dashboard could serve as a powerful advocacy tool for civil society organizations that are working to advance gender equality in a range of geographies.

“This is particularly useful in the contexts in which the government initiatives to respond to COVID do not have mechanisms to monitor the programs or ensure women have access to them,” said Angélica Valenzuela, who leads CICAM, or the Center for Research, Training and Support for Women, a civil society organization in Guatemala.

She said civil society organizations like hers can draw on this data to hold governments accountable and ensure that the policies they are developing respond to the needs of women.

The dashboard highlights the value of gender-specific interventions not just in emergency response, but over the long term, said Christine Arab, Egypt country representative for UN Women.

“The tracker shows what the payoff is if you invest before the emergency happens,” she said. “It costs you less. Your ability to respond, and your nimbleness to respond as a nation, is already there because of the investment you made, and with a lack of investment, you’re not in the same position.”

Arab noted that while these policies are divided into three categories in order to draw comparisons across countries, gender experts will need to take these numbers “out of their silos,” in order to understand the measures within the context of a particular country.

The tracker is designed to be a living database. Data will be updated and new information will be validated and added as it becomes available, which will allow the tracker to document responses over time.

“One of the things it really does need to have in order to be a proper tracker is a start date and end date,” said Laura Turquet, policy adviser at UN Women.

As some countries are phasing out measures that were introduced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tracker will document which measures turn into sustained commitments.

Moving forward, the team behind the tracker plans to add new elements, for example by following whether these policies are actually funded, Turquet said.

UN Women and UNDP are also interested in tracking additional government measures — for example how women are integrated into the policy response as participants and leaders, she said.  

“Governments have really stepped up and been able to deliver things we were told were impossible just a few months ago,” Turquet said. “I hope the database will be used by governments and activists to demonstrate what’s possible and expand what’s being done.”

Devex, with support from our partner UN Women, is exploring how data is being used to inform policy and advocacy to advance gender equality. Gender data is crucial to make every woman and girl count. Visit the Focus on: Gender Data page for more. Disclaimer: The views in this article do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women.

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  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.