In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportionate impact on women and girls has been severe across the region. As previously highlighted in a regional analysis, the pandemic has particularly affected women and girls by exacerbating burdens of unpaid care work, increasing risks of gender-based violence (GBV), impacting livelihoods of women disproportionately especially in the informal sector, and reducing access to sexual and reproductive health. At the same time that the pandemic heightens the needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls, women-focused organizations (WFOs) that serve them have highlighted severe operational and funding challenges. Those challenges threaten to roll back hard-earned gains in gender equality, women’s participation in decisionmaking, and the empowerment of girls in the region. As early as April 2020, 71 per cent of WFOs reported that COVID-19 was affecting them somewhat or very negatively, with 12 per cent suspending activities altogether. Similar trends persist for organizations serving diverse gender populations. The Asia-Pacific Transgender Network reported that all of their project partners expressed concern about how to sustain operational costs of their organizations which provide critical services to transgender people in the region. The Southeast Asia Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression Caucus (ASEAN SOGIE Caucus) reported that donors supporting several groups focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people had backed out from agreed funding, placing organizational continuity at risk in a time where services are most needed.
Evidence from humanitarian action as well as the agenda for women, peace and security underscores the benefits of gender equality-based approaches to programming, including in recovery from crises. In humanitarian action, including recovery, gender-responsive humanitarian programming is correlated with increased access to education and positive education outcomes for both boys and girls, improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene services, improved food security and improved gender equality. The agenda for women, peace and security has shown that when women participate, the needs and priorities of affected women and girls are better addressed, as are the socioeconomic impacts on communities as a whole. Finally, the benefits of women’s leadership are clear: ActionAid research shows that women’s leadership can enhance humanitarian response to the benefit of communities and CARE has shown that states with more women in leadership are more likely to deliver COVID-19 responses that consider the effect of the crisis on women and girls.6 Data show persistent underfunding to initiatives for gender equality and for GBV prevention and response in humanitarian action globally, yet such funding provides many returns. Global studies show returns that range between $1.70 and $150 for every dollar spent on programming for women and girls, with a median value of $8 for every dollar spent.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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