Towards a more gender-equitable COVID-19 response

August 16, 2021

UNDP Gender Strategy 2020 Annual Report

As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to ripple across the world, they leave in their wake an upheaval touching all areas of public life. While all have been effected, no segment of the population has been impacted more, and in more varied ways, than women. The pandemic has shown scant regard for women’s socio-economic or marital status, for motherhood, occupation ethnicity or region of origin. Instead, it has brought into stark relief the fragility of global progress toward gender equality, illuminating the deep and ongoing imbalances in our political, social and economic systems and threatening what advances have been accomplished over the past few decades.

We know that from the private sector to government to peace and security, women’s equitable engagement and leadership brings lasting results that advance every facet of society. It will be essential, then, to not only mitigate further erosion to women’s hard-won gains, but to think and work differently to leverage the challenges women are facing as a result of the pandemic into the changes needed to ensure a sustainable, long-lasting and equitable recovery, 

As countries determine the best way forward, they can choose to do things differently and to ensure that the rights and needs of women and girls are integrated throughout their recovery efforts. The pandemic can be the tipping point that leads to transformation for people and the planet. Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.

Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.

As the pandemic gained momentum in early 2020, UNDP recognized both the increased risks and the potential for change posed by the pandemic, and sought ways to empower governments, institutions and civil society with essential programmes and tools to help drive this transformative change. These efforts included implementing new and strengthened initiatives, tech-based tools and innovative partnerships to reach all UNDP’s gender-based efforts. The efforts and impact are captured in the UNDP Gender Equality Strategy 2020 Annual Report.

Lockdowns dramatically increased the already high incidence[1] of gender-based violence (GBV) with many countries reporting double digit increases.  During the year, UNDP worked with more than 80 countries to adapt dedicated services and integrate GBV considerations into their COVID-19 efforts. Among them is the Spotlight Initiative, a multi-disciplinary partnership of UN agencies supported by the European Union. The Initiative links six mutually supportive pillars – governance, institutional strengthening, prevention, services, data and women’s movements – to eliminate all form of violence against women and girls by 2030.

Accurate global data will be essential if governments and institutions are to mitigate the unique economic and social fallout being experienced by women and girls as a result of the pandemic. In September 2020 UNDP and UN Women launched the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. The Tracker includes more than 2,500 measures across 206 countries and territories and specifically analyses government measures with a gender lens in three areas: those that tackle violence against women and girls, support unpaid care and strengthen women’s economic security. Data from the Tracker will be instrumental in helping governments make policy decisions that positively impact the lives of women and girls and therefore the whole of society. 

In all, in 2020 UNDP worked with more than 80 countries to implement 209 measures to boost women’s inclusion and social protection; formed 116 partnerships to tackle discriminatory gender practices; funded 129 gender-responsive projects specifically related to COVID-19; and supported more than 1.8 million people through cash transfer programs of which 69% were women.  At the same time, the organization walked its gender talk, maintaining a 50-50 gender balance and embracing initiatives to ensure a gender-equitable environment for all its staff.

Achieving the 2030 development agenda will require a transformative approach to creating an equitable and sustainable future. To help drive this, UNDP will focus on and strengthen programs that help to build economic inclusiveness, a more equitable social contract, one that addresses changing gender norms, and support the enablers of gender equality.


[1] More than 736 million women, 30% of all women aged 15 and older, experience intimate partner and/or non-partner sexual violence at least once in their life.