Women Respond: A glimpse of women's responses to COVID-19

by 01st Jun 2020
Infographic impacts of COVID-19 Infographic impacts of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the world, with widespread global impact at unprecedented scale. There are more than 5.7 million reported COVID-19 cases world-wide, and it has been attributed to over 357,000 deaths, as of May 28, 2020. It is widely recognised that these numbers are both underreported and the impact of COVID-19 on households and communities reaches far beyond these figures. As economies crumble and healthcare systems across many parts of the world face unprecedented strain, caregivers, food producers and providers, and health workers (the majority of whom are women) have emerged as the first responders sustaining life and building pathways toward recovery. CARE is working to understand the gender implications of the crisis as it evolves.

What is Women Respond?

Women Respond is a new initiative to unpack the needs and realities of women and girls with whom CARE works around the world  – many of whom are first responders in their communities. These voices are critical to strengthen how organisations, governments and donors should act to support those most impacted by the pandemic.

Women Respond focuses on 3 questions:

  • How have you and your household been impacted by COVID-19?
  • What are your greatest needs now?
  • In what ways are you responding to the pandemic?

What are we learning so far?

We’ve heard from over 1000 women across 15 countries.[1] This is what we are starting to hear.

Stories of loss and struggle

Loss of income, physical and mental health needs, and demands for care work have been significant impacts according to the women we heard from. Women reported their most pressing needs in these times are food security, money, information and hygiene products.

“There are many changes because the children are at home and need supervision, however the hospital is also more demanding at this time….I can no longer farm to make ends meet; I spend more on food for the children without additional income.... Psychologically it’s exhausting for us because every time [I come home] I say to myself I hope I didn’t carry the disease. … women are more affected because they are very much in the forefront. There are many women nurses…[women] do the shopping for the house so exposed on the way.”  - Nurse, Cameroon

“We can't see my husband right now as he is living outside the camp.” - Refugee, Jordan

Stories of collective care

To help meet these needs, many shared stories of family, friends and neighbors helping to provide essential resources to one another. Women’s savings and loans groups talked about how groups have been a lifeline for members, but COVID-19 fears and lost livelihoods cut off meetings and made it impossible for women to pay off loans or save.  Women also shared how they are taking action to respond to the crisis in their communities.

“In the past, the Syrian neighbors used to send me food or some financial aid to meet my family’s needs, but now all of us are without income.” - Refugee, Turkey

“I helped spread awareness of the sanitation crisis. I helped install traditional hand-washing stations in a lot of homes, even those that aren’t in my group.” - Savings and Loans Member, Benin

Stories of how the pandemic hits marginalised people the hardest

The virus and how societies respond to it have pushed already marginalised groups into further risk and vulnerability. Those with fewer resources discussed reducing meals and expenses. Some are taking debt to cover basic needs.Domestic worker unions in Latin America report their base has lost jobs, pay and some face confinement in employers’ homes. People in Burundi and Turkey said female headed households face heightened vulnerability due to caregiving, higher expenses and no income. Some female household heads and elders reported being excluded from aid interventions because of restricted mobility and poor targeting of aid. Refugees living in Jordan camps report being imprisoned within camp walls - cut off from work, resources and family residing outside of the camps.

“It kills me that no one thinks of the most vulnerable in our community, people have become very individualistic. People go to the field to feed their animals for example, but they don’t even know those who are very poor. They have no aid from the government and the community does not want to lift a finger to do something for them.”      - Savings and Loans Member, Morocco

“The aid was supposed to be for elderly people; however, it was the youth who received materials.”    - Community member, Burundi

What we are beginning to learn has already offered important insights for programming from first responders whose leadership and work often go unrecognised. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What’s next

Women Respond continues to glean information gathered across CARE and plans to scale this effort to learn from at least 50,000 women across over 15 countries. By helping to elevate women’s voices and experiences, Women Respond will inform local and global efforts to adapt and rebuild from COVID-19 in a way that supports communities to be stronger, more equal and connected than before. We aim to use data to support feminist movements to advance the rights and interests of those most impacted by the global pandemic. 

As Women Respond steps into its next phase, we are seeking collaborators to undertake this effort together. To connect with this work contact Hilary Mathews: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

[1] Latin America (Ecuador, Costa Rica), to refugees in the Middle East (Jordan, Turkey), to savings groups across Africa (Burundi, Tanzania, Benin, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Morocco, Uganda)

Diana Wu

Diana Wu is a senior advisor on gender and empowerment with CARE USA.