Utilizing evidence-based research to incorporate a gendered lens for the COVID-19 pandemic

The Gender Action Portal highlights research summaries that may be helpful to policymakers, practitioners, activists, and leaders working on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gender-based Violence and COVID-19

According to the UN Population Fund, women and girls are at a higher risk of gender-based violence during this pandemic. This increase could be due to enforcement of social isolation, restriction of movement, and lack of access to resources and social networks.

Many programs throughout the world aim to empower women through economic means, including through labor markets, asset-building, microfinance, and cash transfers. These types of economic opportunities could also be used to empower women during disease outbreaks and other pandemics.

How can we support victims and survivors of gender-based violence during this time?


Allocating cash transfers to women in the households can decrease the prevalence of gender-based violence

Targeting cash, voucher, or food transfers towards female heads of household in Ecuador led to a significant decrease in the prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV). There is no evidence that domestic violence increases as a consequence of the cash-transfer programs due to attempts to extract resources. In other words, there was no recorded backlash from men when women were given these responsibilities.

Adding a dialogue component to cash transfers can further address gender-based violence

Cash transfers alone may not decrease the prevalence of gender-based violence in communities. Though this is difficult to do in-person during social distancing, policymakers should consider ways to add dialogue and context into the implementation of cash transfers.

In Côte d’Ivoire, adding an interpersonal dialogue group to economic empowerment programming reduced the occurrence and social acceptance of intimate partner violence as well as economic abuse.

Another study found that combining a microfinance program for women with a participatory curriculum that discussed gender roles, relationships, intimate-partner violence, and HIV reduced levels of intimate-partner violence in South Africa.

Address social norms around gender-based violence

Social norms can influence how communities perceive and address violence against women. These social norms can be influenced through individual reactions (e.g. community meetings), or through public broadcasting (such as radio or television) which can be done when community members are in isolation from each other.

A study done in Mexico investigated whether public transmission of a soap opera aiming to challenge gender norms and discourage violence against women alone was sufficient to influence norms.

Although some evidence suggests that the face-to-face interactions of community meetings can change perceptions and norms regarding IPV, delivering information publicly through a village loudspeaker broadcast was sufficient to influence attitudes and norms in this study.

Leadership, Decision-Making, and COVID-19

Though women represent 70 percent of the health and social sector workforce, they are typically under-represented in healthcare leadership and decision-making positions across the world. Having women in leadership positions not only diversifies decision-making slates, but evidence from the Ebola pandemic found that male bias persists in thinking about disease outbreaks: there was little attention paid to gendered impacts of the disease in framing the crisis, nor was there data disaggregated by sex or gender indicators (Harman, 2016).

How can we ensure women are well-represented in both leadership and decision-making processes during this global pandemic?


Ensure gender parity by providing women with equal pathways to leadership and decision-making roles

Attracting and retaining more women in leadership fields may bolster the ethical standards of businesses, which is much needed for policymaking during pandemics. Though this GAP study focuses primarily on business, it finds that women have greater moral reservations about ethical compromises in business, contributing to the gender gap in business schools, companies, and leadership.  

Understand the impact and importance of collective intelligence

Group collective intelligence is important for predicting the group’s future performance, particularly when the group is making decisions and policies during unprecedented times.  Collective intelligence is largely determined by group composition and group dynamics, and increases with a higher concentration of women in the group.

Parenthood and COVID-19

This outbreak also has implications on financial safety and well-being for women in the workforce. Evidence suggests that the "motherhood penalty” may account for a significant proportion of the gender gap in pay between mothers and non-mothers. Mothers face penalties in hiring, starting salaries, and perceived competence. Additionally, it is important for companies to consider how remote work and juggling responsibilities of childcare & caregiving can greatly affect the well-being of women and mothers during this stressful time.

Given women do the majority of caregiving in households, how can organizations and governments support working mothers and parents?


When women gain access to public assistance payments and resource allocation, they tend to invest in resources that will benefit their families and children

Prior research suggests that often when given choices involving investment, goods, and allocation of resources, men and women make different choices; with women tending to invest in resources that will benefit their children’s or their own well-being. A study based on a government-run welfare program in Mexico found that when women receive public assistance payments, they channel resources to benefit all household members, particularly children.

When company policies allow employees to work a flexible schedule focused on outcomes and not hours, employee well-being increases.

As companies move to remote work, it is important to consider the effects this may have on the workforce. Demanding work, along with lack of flexibility and time to care for one's family can create stress and erode physical and emotional health, with particular effects during pandemics like COVID-19. This GAP summary found that an organizational intervention that promotes workers’ flexibility and supervisor support increases job-related well-being among IT workers, as well as general well-being among women.

As we move through this time of uncertainty, we hope that this research will help organizations and policymakers take a gendered lens to this work in order to ensure the needs of women and girls are met.

Additional Resources

Data2X: Gender and Data Resources Related to COVID-19 

UNFPA: COVID-19 - A Gender Lens

OECD: Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis

World Bank: Gender & COVID-19

Harvard Kennedy School: COVID-19 - Insights and Solutions

Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation: COVID-19 Public Sector Resources

Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: COVID-19 Digital Resources

NBER Working PaperThe Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality