Gender Equality and COVID-19: Policies and Institutions for Mitigating the Crisis

Gender Equality and COVID-19
Posted by the IMF, UNDP, and UN-Women[1]

The COVID-19 crisis threatens decades of progress on gender equality. A new COVID-19 Special Series note, jointly produced by the IMF, UNDP and UN-Women, calls for countries to implement gender-responsive policies and budgeting to mitigate the short-term impacts of the pandemic, while also addressing long-term structural drivers of gender inequality. Failing to do so risks long-term scarring and harms the prospects for a gender-responsive recovery.


Women and girls have been on the front line of the pandemic. Women account for most of the health and social care workforce, leaving them more exposed to the risk of infection. They also face great challenges in employment, with large shares of women working in sectors most heavily affected by the pandemic. Due to the lockdown and closing of childcare centers, women are taking on even more unpaid care and domestic work than before the crisis. Gender-based violence has also surged. Hard-won gains in education attainment for young women and girls could be derailed, as they struggle to return to the classroom.

Well-designed fiscal policies and gender-responsive budgeting can play a crucial role in addressing gender inequalities through the pandemic’s response and recovery phases.  Against this background, the IMF, UNDP and UN-Women have drawn on the UNDP-UN-Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker to review the gender sensitivity of national policies enacted in response to the pandemic and the evidence and experiences of effective gender-responsive policymaking.

Based on this review, the new Special Series note sets out key actions that some countries have taken, and that others can take, to address widening gender inequalities. These include:

Bolstering women’s incomes through social protection

·       Paid leave provides income support for those who require time off work to care for their families.

·       Cash transfers are a vital source of support for unemployed as well as informal workers.

·       Tax measures that explicitly target the poor will benefit women, who tend to be overrepresented in lower-income brackets.

·       Robust, gender-responsive social protection systems can be strengthened by increasing their coverage and adequacy.

Supporting women’s employment in crisis and recovery

·       Enhanced availability and affordability of care services, and expanded access to paid parental leave can reduce unpaid care work and support women’s  employment.

·       Flexible work arrangements and access to paid family leave can help working parents better balance unpaid care work with paid employment in the formal economy.

·       Addressing existing structural features of tax systems that disadvantage women – such as family-based tax systems that disincentivize work for secondary earners, or high tax wedges at the lower end of the labor market - can reduce barriers to employment.

Supporting sectors where women predominate

·       Economic support packages and tax measures can be used to benefit sectors or occupational groups with a higher representation of women workers, such as financial support for women-owned enterprises or tax deferrals for sectors with high shares of female employment.

·       Investment in decent work for women through training programs and public investments in the care economy can support re-integration of women into a changing labor force.

The impacts of these policies can be amplified if the Public Financial Management (PFM) institutions that implement them are gender responsive – the essence of gender- responsive budgeting (GRB).  This can help ensure that policies are part of a coherent gender strategy that is based on need, effectively designed, aligned with the budget process, and monitored and evaluated to improve implementation.  This should include the following:

Assess the impact of the pandemic on gender

·       Undertake a gender needs assessment to best understand the gender impacts of the pandemic, using available sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics to identify disproportionate impacts. 

Create a coherent strategy and allocate sufficient resources

·       Publication of a targeted policy document such as a Gender Budget Statement can focus the government’s immediate policy response and show how public resources are being allocated to support progress towards gender equality goals.

·       Gender responsive budget call circulars can integrate specific instructions to government departments and anchor gender equality in the budget preparation process.

Design effective policy responses and evaluate their impact on women

·       Ex-ante Gender Impact Assessments can be used to systematically assess the different impacts (positive, negative, or neutral) of a policy proposal on gender equality and to uncover unintended bias.

·       Integration of the gender dimension into performance audits can help governments assess on an ex-post basis whether national responses succeeded in addressing the needs of women, girls, and marginalized groups.

 Recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate progress in deploying gender-responsive policies and budgeting and reap the dividends for all.


[1] Vincent Tang (IMF), Aroa Santiago (UNDP), Zohra Khan (UN Women), David Amaglobeli (IMF), Esuna Dugarova (UNDP), Katherine Gifford (UN Women), Laura Gores (IMF), Jiro Honda (IMF), Alexander Klemm (IMF), Carolina Renteria (IMF), Alberto Soler (IMF), Silke Staab (UN Women), Carolina Osorio- Buitron (IMF), Qianqian Zhang (IMF)

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