Covid-19 has affected nearly every system—health, economic, food, water, education and social services—and exposed their weaknesses and inequalities.
As a gender consultant for humanitarian response based in Oslo, my work since March has focused on gathering data on the distinct impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and men, and putting measures in place to continue to deliver assistance safely. But no amount of data can tell us what it means for garment workers in Bangladesh with factories shut down, for students in rural Mali with schools closed or for Venezuelan refugees stuck in limbo in Colombia.
Here’s what the data tells us:
- Vaccination coverage in 2020 has dropped to levels last seen in the 1990s. We have, in effect, been set back about 25 years in as many weeks.
- The pandemic has pushed almost 37 million people into extreme poverty, that is more than six times the population of Norway living on US$ 1.90 a day.
- The new poor are more likely to be women than men, because women are more likely to work in the sectors that Covid-19 has hit hardest.
- At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren, 463 million of them, had no access to remote learning when their schools were forced to close. Data from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa suggests that when schools reopen, girls are less likely to return, narrowing their opportunities in life and those of their future children.
- The number of people in acute food insecurity could increase from about 149 million before the pandemic to 270 million before the end of the year unless life-saving assistance is urgently provided.
The list goes on. But what do the stories tell us?
Ayanna, a garment worker in Dhaka.
When Bangladesh went into the lockdown, the factory where she worked suspended many without pay. ¨I feel lucky to keep my job, but I have to work longer hours and I am very afraid of contracting Covid.¨ She has very few breaks to wash her hands, and the accommodation provided is overcrowded with only basic water and sanitation facilities. She will get no (or little) sick pay if she falls ill, and she has no health insurance, so any healthcare services available will be limited.
Amina, a bright young student in a village in northern Mali.
Amina started secondary education this year, but going digital was not an option when her school closed. ¨I am the eldest of eight siblings, so now I look after them at home and I help with household tasks.¨ Her dream of becoming a teacher has faded into the distance.
Adriana, a Venezuelan refugee.
Adriana is a Venezuelan refugee who worked at an industrial design company in Bogotá. She was a lifeline for her family back home, sending them almost everything she earned. When the company went bust, however, she was the first to be dismissed and has since only been able to find work as a house cleaner. ¨I now only eat once a day but still can’t make ends meet, let alone send money home.¨ Her landlord has been understanding, but he too is struggling and has told her she’ll have to pay her rent by the end of the month.
There are many millions of stories like these, of people doing whatever it takes to survive and support their loved ones through the crisis. Listening to them should be at the forefront of our efforts to collectively identify solutions. •
Mireia is the founder of CANO Gender Solutions, working on integrating gender in humanitarian response with UN agencies and International and Norwegian NGOs.
Important research referenced in this article can be found here: