Unheard Unseen: A COVID-19 briefing

Originally published


2020 should have been a ‘big year for women’s rights’. Instead, progress is being threatened due to COVID-19 - and women affected by conflict are most at risk of being left behind

Thursday 7 May 2020: On what would have been the first day of the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico City, Women for Women International release a new briefing: UNHEARD. UNSEEN. Ensuring the inclusion of marginalised women in fragile and conflict states in the COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery [download here] - an important call to global leaders and policy makers to ensure that women in conflict are not, once again, left behind.

2020 was set to be an important year for women’s rights and gender equality, with an unprecedented number of global gatherings and political milestones – the beginning of a new era for global action to scale up gender equality and women’s rights in conflict-affected settings. One of these key moments, UN Women’s Generation Equality Forum, was due to kick off in Mexico City this weekend (7/8 May 2020).

But these meetings are all now on hold while the COVID-19 pandemic increasingly threatens women’s power. COVID-19 is amplifying gender inequalities and power disparities. Poverty, insecurity and gender-based violence are spiraling. And those who are already unheard and unseen will be disproportionately impacted.

Between increased exposure to contracting and transmitting the virus, food shortages, financial insecurity and exclusion from decision-making, COVID-19 places additional burdens on women living in conflict settings. Despite the leadership roles that women are playing in the response itself, we also know that they are already being excluded from the processes that guide decisions around the pandemic. This is happening at all levels, from local to global. Women living in the most vulnerable communities are experts on what is needed to respond and rebuild with more resilience.

Women for Women International recently published its Agenda for Action. ‘Unheard. Unseen.’ identifies five priority action areas and provides analysis and recommendations on the important policy changes that are so urgently needed for marginalised women affected by conflict. This briefing – released today – draws on the Agenda for Action to set out a recommended approach to COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery that would truly integrate the needs and rights of the most marginalised women already living in some of the most challenging circumstances. It also shares insights and experiences that Women for Women International is hearing from women affected by conflict as well as some key examples of actions taken so far in response to the crisis.

Were governments and international institutions to action these recommendations and follow this approach, it would set a pathway for a more just and equitable world that can be increasingly resilient to future disruptions – be they health, conflict, climate or other crises.

2020 was due to be a critical year for gender equality and women’s rights – a moment to reflect on what is needed to deliver on our promises for all women, everywhere. We must redouble our efforts to turn the momentum around 2020 into action.

Media Contact: Jenny Rose (UK) or 07957 551 697

Notes to Editors


Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Vice President for Europe & External Relations for Women for Women International says:

“COVID-19 is brutally exposing the cracks in our systems. We’re already hearing from our colleagues and programme participants on the frontlines of prevention and response how poverty, insecurity and gender-based violence are spiralling – and as with all crises, those who are already unheard and unseen will be hit the hardest.

It is striking to us at Women for Women International that, over the past 25 years, the needs and rights of the most marginalised women living in the most challenging and fragile places have not been prioritised. They have been failed by the international community before. We cannot let that happen again with COVID-19. That is why we are calling for a global response that is coordinated, inclusive and puts gender at its core.”

Spokespeople also available from across our country offices.

Critical priorities:

The specific needs and rights of marginalised women affected by conflict must be integral to COVID-19 prevention, response and recovery. In line with our Agenda for Action, Women for Women International is calling for an approach that:

1 . is nuanced and does not treat ‘women’ as a single, homogenous group:

How? Regularly conduct a gender analysis and collect disaggregated data throughout the evolution of this crisis to understand the varying dimensions and their impacts on different people, communities and countries based on their intersecting identities, including gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class, age and socio-economic status and ensure representation of marginalised groups (disabled women, displaced women etc.). Importantly, use this insight to guide any interventions to ensure they are appropriate.

2 . is coordinated, holistic and puts gender at its core, while ensuring that emergency responses do not distract or divert funding, resources and attention away from the existing challenges that women affected by conflict already face:

How? Ensure that any responses to COVID-19 follow implementation of existing commitments on gender equality (for example, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda) and take a holistic approach to meeting women’s needs during this crisis (recognising that health, food security, economic power and safety are all interlinked).

3 . actively and meaningfully engages women and women’s rights organisations as experts and partners, both during and beyond this emergency, at all levels of decision-making - from the household and community to the national and international levels:

How? Formalise ways for women’s voices to be heard in decision-making processes around COVID-19 and provide women’s rights organisations with core, flexible and long-term funding as they adapt their work to respond to and recover from the gendered impact of this crisis.

4 . prioritises violence prevention and recovery, acknowledging the increased risk of violence that women affected by conflict face (particularly intimate partner violence) during times of crisis:

How? Avoid falling into the typical, narrow rhetoric around sexual violence; categorise violence protection and response services as lifesaving, essential and non-negotiable in the same way water, sanitation, hygiene and food programmes are; and reinforce safeguarding policies and procedures.

5 . recognises COVID-19 as an economic crisis, as well as a health and humanitarian one, and considers women’s immediate and longer-term economic rights and needs:

How? Maintain existing economic support (through grants, cash transfers and stipends) and consider providing supplementary emergency funding to mitigate the immediate impact on livelihoods where possible. Consider longer-term economic interventions, for example start-up capital for women microentrepreneurs to re-launch their businesses post-lockdowns.

About Women for Women International

When there is an outbreak of war or violence, women suffer most – they experience trauma, sexual violence and the death of loved ones. After the conflict is over, the world’s attention moves on, but women are left to rebuild their families and communities.

Women for Women International supports women who live in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Women enrol on the charity’s year-long training programme, where they learn how to earn and save money, improve their family’s health and make their voices heard at home and in their community.

Women for Women International is evolving to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Poverty, conflict, and gender discrimination make women survivors of war most vulnerable to infectious diseases. As a trusted, established source of health information in the communities it works, Women for Women International staff and trainers are finding the best ways to stay connected with women and ensure they have the knowledge they need to survive. More details here.

Since 1993, the charity has helped over half a million marginalised women survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan. With over fifty brutal armed conflicts across the globe, there’s never been a greater need to support women survivors of war. With your help, women can graduate from the Women for Women International programme with the skills, knowledge and resources to become successful entrepreneurs. They will pass on their knowledge to their neighbours and children, creating a ripple effect.

Find out more at or follow @WomenforWomenUK on social media.