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World Refugee Day Summary: COVID-19 One More Setback for Refugees in MENA – Especially Women and Girls


Refugees and the displaced, the majority of them located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, are now faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and economically damaging efforts at its mitigation. Fragile gains in women’s workforce participation are at risk, gender-based violence is on the rise, and women’s voices are going unheeded. CARE’s soon-to-be-released Rapid Gender Analysis gathers together data from its country offices in MENA and beyond to provide a sobering picture of the pandemic’s impact on women and girls

Rapid Gender Analysis – Middle East North Africa (MENA)


The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts at mitigating the virus’ spread in recent months have heightened the insecurity, psychosocial distress, economic vulnerability, gender inequality, and deprivation that already existed in countries in the Middle East and beyond. While men appear to have worse outcomes when infected with the coronavirus, women and girls are being deeply impacted– and fragile gains in women’s workforce participation are in jeopardy.

While female labor force participation rates have been comparatively low and resistant to change in MENA countries, modest increases in Jordan, Palestine West Bank/Gaza, Egypt, and Syria are endangered by mitigation measures that require the entire family to stay home, where schooling, caretaking, and housekeeping continue to fall mainly upon women and girls. There are indications that domestic violence is on the rise. Women entrepreneurs face greater barriers to financing, technical support, and technology that can help them weather the harsh economic shutdowns adopted by their governments. And women’s voices have not been adequately integrated into the official COVID-19 response, leaving their needs unaddressed.

The MENA region hosts the largest population of refugees globally, with fighting and displacement underway even now. Refugees and internally displaced persons from wars in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Palestine and nearby Afghanistan are dispersed throughout the region, some on the move and others living in camps and urban areas in host countries, with tenuous access to water, hygiene, health, housing and other services critical in a pandemic.

As of June 16, 639,136 COVID-19 cases have been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) in MENA, though testing and reporting in conflict-affected areas is limited by fractured health infrastructures and the inability for health workers to access areas in conflict. The actual scale of the health crisis is hard to accurately quantify.

Most host countries are low- or middle-income, with overextended economic resources. Many refugees in the region were already in economically precarious situations. While strict mitigation measures initially implemented in many MENA countries curtailed the spread of the virus, reopening economies and vulnerable populations’ dire need to leave their homes to find work and earn an income portend surges of infections.

Refugees are especially impacted as they live in densely populated areas, are less likely to have secure employment, and face housing insecurity and threats of eviction if unable to pay their rent. Refugees also have less access to water and sanitation in these often-arid host countries – increasing the time needed for household chores. Female-headed households – more prevalent among refugees – are at greater risk, as gender barriers and discrimination limit economic opportunities. Women are disproportionately engaged in informal labor that has been severely curtailed by the crisis.