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Rapid Gender Analysis – COVID-19: Middle East and North Africa Region, June 2020

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Executive Summary

The novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world. As of July 1, 2020, 10,487,022 cases and 511,546 have been recorded in 216 countries. This Rapid Gender Analysis gathers together data from its country offices in the Middle East and North Africa region and beyond (Turkey and Georgia are also included), offering a sobering picture of the pandemic’s impact, especially for women and girls. MENA is at a critical stage in containing the pandemic – while some countries have been successful in curtailing the spread by utilizing stringent lockdown measures, other more fragile and conflict-affected countries are seeing spikes in the number of people infected. Widespread conflict, displacement, and migration in the region significantly complicates a managed response to COVID-19, and extreme water scarcity makes preventative measures even more challenging.

Women and girls in MENA, already facing discrimination, now face additional barriers to education, mobility, access to financing and assets, and participation in the labor force and official decision-making as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Women and girls are experiencing regression in the informal labor market, elevated levels of violence and harassment, and increased care-taking burdens for out-ofschool children, and sick and elderly family members.

Levels of psychosocial distress – already high in a volatile region – are escalating. Gender-based violence (GBV) in the form of domestic violence, early/child and forced marriage, and exploitation have increased in different MENA countries. More adolescent boys and young men are reporting abuse.

Men – with higher COVID-19 mortality rates – are also experiencing the loss of their role as providers, in a context of strict gender roles and stigmatization. Women who are heads of the household or owners of small businesses are facing an uphill struggle.

This report seeks to inform response interventions provided by key service providers in the MENA region.

Core Recommendations include:

  • Consistently collect and analyze sex, age, and disability disaggregated (SADD) data in all preparedness and response interventions.

  • Utilize gender-specific two-way risk communication in conveying COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies to the public in order to adequately learn about and address misinformation.

  • Prioritize provision of sexual and reproductive health services and menstrual hygiene materials in line with the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for women and girls.

  • Continue, expand, and adapt protection and genderbased violence (GBV) services as a matter of lifesaving urgency.

  • Increase provision of water, sanitation, and hygiene services particularly in rural and displaced settings.

  • Take economic measures to protect those involved in informal/insecure labor markets such as cash assistance.

  • Ensure women are involved in leadership and decision making on COVID-19 response at global, regional, national, and community levels.

  • Engage men and boys in dialogue to change social norms and strengthen engagement in caregiving roles.

  • Increase investment in mental health and psychosocial services, especially in conflict settings.

  • Adapt women’s economic empowerment initiatives to promote remote modalities for income generation


  • Deeply-entrenched gender roles in the region have led to an even heavier burden of work on women who typically serve as caregivers for household members, included children doing remote schooling and infected family members.

  • Gains made in women’s household and community-level decision-making and leadership are at risk due to the pandemic.

  • Economic deprivation, psychosocial stress, and stay-at-home measures are leading to substantial increases in intimate partner and domestic violence. The need for service expansion is critical.

  • There is a need to continue and expand support for sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls, including menstrual hygiene management and pre- and post-natal care.

  • Water, sanitation, and hygiene materials are severely lacking, particularly in displacement settings, and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  • Fragile gains in some countries in women’s economic participation could be diminished if concerted efforts are not made to ensure economic assistance and flexible modalities for income generation, in conjunction with support for caregiving roles.