Gender and COVID-19 in the Arab States

Statement by Dr Moez Doraid, UN Women Regional Director a.i. for the Arab States


We are currently living through a period of significant change and uncertainty, as governments, with the support of the World Health Organisation, respond to the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic rapidly evolving international public health.

While all our lives are affected by the impact of Covid-19, it is vital that global, regional and national response plans address the specific implications for the health and safety of women and girls, and consider the key roles and responsibilities that women and girls undertake.

In the Arab States region, women perform nearly five times as much unpaid care work as men, while globally, women make up 70 per cent of social and health workers. When health systems are overloaded in responding to Covid-19, a greater burden is placed on women to care for the sick at home. This makes them more exposed to contracting the COVID-19 virus. 

Overstretched health services often divert resources away from women’s primary health needs, making their access to essential healthcare much harder. At the same time, it is well documented that when households are placed under strain, domestic violence often increases, as does sexual exploitation.

Women are also likely to be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of Covid-19, due to their engagement in insecure labour, and lack of access to financial resources. The humanitarian crises caused by the conflict in Syria and Yemen exacerbate the challenges for protecting women and girls from the impacts of Covid-19. Therefore, we must not allow Covid-19 to deprive women of vital care and support services and recovery plans must focus on re-building the resilience of vulnerable women.

At this time, we must make gender-responsive support to women a priority, and guarantee women’s equal voice in deciding how best to tackle the virus. UN Women is working with its partners, including the World Health Organization, ESCWA, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and others, to ensure that data and evidence-based analysis concerning the gender dimension is integrated into the response at global, regional and country levels, so that the response can be more effective for everyone, especially the most marginalized.

There will come a time when this pandemic is behind us. Today, the responsibility on all of us, for policy-makers, the private sector, civil society and individuals alike, is to ensure that the response and support available meet the needs of both men and women. We must understand each other’s concerns, and vulnerabilities; this will limit not only the economic but also the human cost of COVID-19. We will emerge from this crisis stronger together. Women and girls must not be left behind. They must be front and centre in all response measures. It is up to us; it is up to you. Thank you.