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Latin America and the Carribean Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19


Executive Summary

As of May 18, the WHO was reporting 510,261 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). LAC countries have varied in their responses to the crisis with the majority declaring some form of a state of emergency, and adopting preventive measures to limit transmission, throughout March and April 2020. Restrictions are set to continue in several LAC countries throughout May and June, while others began loosening restrictions by the beginning of May.

The LAC region has the highest levels of inequality in the world, with wide gaps in living standards across countries, regions, sectors, and socio-economic spheres. Access to quality health, education and employment services were therefore already limited for a large number of people. The region also faces continuous challenges related to high levels of social and political conflict, increasing rates of criminality and corruption, deterioration of human rights and several pressing humanitarian situations; all of these combined with persistent population flows and economic decelerations over the last few years.

COVID-19 could push 15.9 million more people in the region into extreme poverty, bringing the total number of people living in poverty to 214 million or 34% of the entire population in LAC. Women, girls, and LGBTIQ+ people will be some of the most affected, especially those from at-risk and marginalized groups.

When also added to the persistent, pervasive gender inequality in the region the response to COVID-19 becomes immeasurably more complex. Although those most affected by COVID-19 are reportedly men, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases and weak immune systems, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by both the disease and the public health measures to contain it. Patriarchal gender norms place the burden of care work directly on women and girls' shoulders, exposing them to additional risk as they carry the load for caring in both the professional and domestic spheres. High rates of informal labour force participation, and workplace precarity, also mean that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by political, economic, and social containment measures as their sectors of work are the hardest hit. More than 1 in 4 households in the region are female-headed, representing the highest rate of female-headed households in the world. This further deepens the feminization of poverty and women's vulnerability to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, especially as so many depend on informal and precarious work for their incomes.

Specific impacts seen so far for women, girls, and LGBTIQ+ people in LAC include, but are not limited to: decreased access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); disrupted livelihoods and increased levels of labour exploitation and abuse; an overload of care work, negatively impacting psychosocial, physical, and emotional health; interruptions of life-saving sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services; interrupted essential education services for children; increased teenage pregnancies, household violence, and gender based violence; rising xenophobia and discrimination towards migrants and refugees; and growing food insecurity. All of which has a disproportionate impact on women, girls, and LGBTIQ+ people, especially those from marginalized groups such as Indigenous and Afrodescendant communities, rural, migrant, and refugee communities, and workers in informal or precarious employment.

Women's unpaid care work, and the unequal division of labour in households is further exacerbated when COVID-19 response measures close schools, public spaces, or care services. Women in LAC already spent almost 3 times as much time on unpaid care work compared to men prior to the pandemic. This invisible workload is what has sustained households, health systems, and the economy throughout the pandemic response and has been essential in backstopping national public health strategies throughout COVID-19. As public resources continue stretching to their limits as a result of the emergency, states' ability to continue providing care will further diminish when it is most needed; meaning women's caregiving role and hours spent will continue to grow.

COVID-19 therefore poses a serious threat to women's engagement in economic activities. Only 67% of women in LAC participate in the formal labour force compared to 93% of men, and over 126 million work in the informal sector. The majority are concentrated in the lower-earning care and service sectors. Additionally, they face more barriers in accessing telework options and/or generating incomes via work ©Josh Estey/CARE May 2020: CARE + UN Women -- LAC Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19 6 outside of their homes. This means women and girls are more likely to lose income earning potential because of COVID-19 related work interruptions than their male counterparts. It also means they have less access to the social protection mechanisms or savings they need to see them through the pandemic. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable as they face increased risk exposures in their employers' homes, as well as increased care loads.

Remittances are another significant source of income for many households in the LAC region, with a high number of women and men migrant workers and families living outside their home country providing financial support to families back home. Disruption of this source of income due to COVID-19 will have a disproportionate impact on women, and their families, who depend on these resources, affecting those living in poverty and extreme poverty the most.

Women in Latin America make up 74% of the health and social workforce. Many will come in contact with COVID-19 patients and/or those caring for COVID-19 patients and thus are at higher risk for contracting the virus. While women make up more than the majority of this sector, they hold few positions of leadership and decision making, with men occupying 75% of all leadership positions in the health sector. Gender Based Violence (GBV) has increased in LAC during the COVID-19 crisis as national lockdowns and self-isolation measures increase stress, economic hardship, and stop women and girls experiencing violence from leaving the places where they are being abused. Some countries have diverted limited resources to infection prevention, control and treatment, while others are investing in new digital technologies and platforms for service provision. This uneven response across contexts means that barriers to accessing GBV services will likely continue increasing in the context of COVID-19.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to safe shelter is important for everyone, but has critical impacts for intra-household gender equality. In informal settlements, conditions are crowded and access to clean water is limited, making social distancing and handwashing almost impossible. Families who do not have running water at home must travel outside the home to collect water, use shared toilets, and gather sufficient quantities of items to service household hygiene needs. Women's disproportionate unpaid care work in LAC means they are primarily responsible, thereby further increasing their exposure to the virus and other risks. Women's overrepresentation in informal settlements exacerbates their lack of access to the hygiene supplies and measures needed to properly prevent COVID-19 infections. Lack of access to essential infrastructure in informal settlements also restricts women from participating in income-generating activities and/or aggravates existing time poverty. Women and girls are also facing increased difficulties accessing nutritious, safe food in the wake of COVID-19. Women across the region are already reporting skipping meals, or depriving themselves of nutritious foods, so that they have more available for their children and families.

Women's overrepresentation in informal settlements exacerbates their lack of access to the hygiene supplies and measures needed to properly prevent COVID-19 infections. Lack of access to essential infrastructure in informal settlements also restricts women from participating in incomegenerating activities and/or aggravates existing time poverty. Women and girls are also facing increased difficulties accessing nutritious, safe food in the wake of COVID-19.

As the majority of informal workers, and the populations with less access to safe, dignified work services, women and girls are also being disproportionately impacted by economic slowdowns and work stoppages. Several states in the region are recognizing and building equity measures into relief packages so as to mitigate these inequalities, but more still needs to be done to ensure the rights of the most vulnerable are supported throughout the entire cycle of response to recovery. While there have been important advances in GBV, SRH and health services across the region as a result of COVID-19 adaptation measures, these advances need to be harnessed, invested in, systematized and scaled up. Rates of GBV and related protection issues will continue to increase as long as economic and isolation measures are in place. As countries begin lifting these restrictions, flare-ups will continue to be seen each time infection control measures need to be brought back in; requiring specific gender analysis to be part of infection control measures and decision-making moving forward. GBV and SRH service platforms will need to be part of essential packages, just as much as health measures, household support packages, and income supports. While reports indicate that gender relations are changing in some households in the region, with women's care role becoming more visible and men taking on marginally more care work, this still needs to be harnessed as an opportunity for change.

Key Recommendations

Organizations should continue to invest in gender and intersectional analysis, especially as government responses continue to evolve. Organizations should ensure that all new reports are shared widely, and that programming and policies be adapted to continual, changing needs as pandemic responses shift. These should be timed to governments' decisions to institute, or lift, new public health measures and related social, economic, and mobility restrictions. Continual up-to-date gender analysis of shifting gender dynamics in affected populations will allow for more effective and appropriate programming as responses to COVID-19 continue.

As governments begin to lift COVID-19 public health lockdowns and other measures, it will be essential that humanitarian actors and policy makers ensure a gender lens is included throughout the response and recovery process. Women, girls, and LGBTIQ+ people, especially those from vulnerable groups, will all experience the easing of public health restrictions differently, just as they experienced COVID-19 restrictions differently. It is essential that their voices, needs, experiences, and capacities are understood and included.

Recommendations include:

  • Conduct country specific gender and intersectional analyses with contextualized response recommendations for diverse groups of women, men, boys, girls and LGBTIQ+ people; especially those who are currently underrepresented in the data.

  • Systematically collect sex and age disaggregated data (at a minimum) in all areas relevant for the health, social, economic, and political areas of COVID-19 response.

  • Partner with diverse women and LGBTIQ+ organizations, and support their participation and leadership as a cornerstone of effective COVID-19 response and recovery. Response agencies should engage a diversity of women's and LGBTIQ+ rights organizations and activists, including young women and LGBTIQ+ people as key decision makers and leaders in all planning and response efforts. This ensures effective, inclusive, action from assessment through to recovery.

  • Ensure all COVID-19 response and recovery activities provide trauma-informed, women-friendly, inclusive, work environments. Responders should be aware of the increased barriers facing front May 2020: CARE + UN Women -- LAC Rapid Gender Analysis for COVID-19 8 line service providers because of COVID-19 measures, especially women and LGBTIQ+ people, and ensure gender-sensitive policies address these barriers.

  • Recognize and address the unequal division of care work, and unpaid domestic labour, as an essential element of emergency public health and economic response. Provide appropriate socio-economic supports for women and girls providing care work as a cornerstone of all humanitarian program design and all recovery policies, from the definition of "essential workers" (to include all paid and unpaid care work) to cash transfer programs and/or or other sectoral humanitarian supports.

  • Build women's and LGBTIQ+ people's long term political and economic empowerment directly into immediate relief, and longer term response and recovery strategies by: implementing targeted cash and income generating activities for women and LGBTIQ+ people (using a do no harm approach), including specific supports and programs for women and LGBTIQ+ people to re-orient their income-generating activities in the immediate and long term, ensuring equal or enhanced employment in predominantly female sectors, and addressing unequal burdens of care in both immediate response and recovery activities.