COVID-19, gender inequality and social exclusion                            SDDirect evidence                            




















COVID-19, gender inequality and social exclusion: imminent threats


SDDirect evidence to the IDC inquiry on COVID-19 in developing countries



Produced for: International Development Committee

17th April 2020















1              Introduction to SDDirect

2              Overview: how COVID-19 will impact women, girls and marginalised groups

3              Impacts on people with disabilities

4              Impacts on Violence Against Women and Girls

5              Impacts on LGBTQI+ groups

5     Impacts on women and girls in conflict

6     Impacts on women’s unpaid care work


1       Introduction to SDDirect

Social Development Direct (SDDirect) is a leading provider of social development assistance and research services. We are a technical firm that offers in-depth thematic expertise in conflict prevention and peace building, governance voice and accountability, girls’ education, women’s economic empowerment, health rights and violence against women and girls. We have a 20 year track record of providing high quality services that include technical advice and support, research, development assistance programme design, delivery and management, monitoring and evaluation. Our clients are leading international development agencies, iNGOs and Foundations.

We are a wholly owned subsidiary of Plan International UK, a leader in gender-based programming for children.

2       Overview: how COVID-19 will impact women, girls and marginalised groups

2.1.1      What we know about women and girls, marginalised groups and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency affecting millions of people around the world. Over the past few weeks, as the crisis has started to unfold in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), SDDirect has been conducting desk-based research on a number of issues related to gender and social inclusion and COVID-19, including violence against women and girls (VAWG), disability inclusion, women, peace and security, and the impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people.[1]

Our research demonstrates that women and marginalised groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Groups at the intersection of inequalities, for instance when gender inequality overlaps with other forms of exclusion including those related to age, class, disability, and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), are at particular risk of adverse impacts from the COVID-19 crisis. Our research highlights that the impact ranges from greater risks of contracting the virus for some, including women and people with disabilities, to serious consequences in access to healthcare, food security, livelihoods, education and increases in violence and abuse, including in conflict zones. Barriers include inaccessible healthcare and WASH facilities, lack of access to social protection, technology, and pervasive negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination, including in the health sector. Emerging data and evidence indicate that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities, worsening development outcomes, and may make it difficult to meet the Sustainable Development Goal targets. This situation is likely to be exaggerated if women and marginalised groups are not involved in the response, further damaging development gains made in the last few decades.

2.1.2      Availability of data and evidence on women and girls and marginalised groups in the COVID-19 crisis

Although data and evidence are just emerging in many of these areas, there are clear trends in media, human rights, and VAWG service provider reports on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on women, girls, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ groups and women and girls in conflict. The following suggestions for data collection and research would help us to understand these impacts better:

We believe that attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers, together with a lack of data and evidence which considers the gender and social dimensions of the crisis, including the impact on women, girls and marginalised groups, are a threat to an effective COVID-19 response and recovery, meaning in some cases that governments and communities may leave behind the very people they are most trying to protect. The below sections summarise the research we have conducted in these areas.

Diagram 1: intersectionality and COVID-19

2.1.1      Recommendations for an inclusive COVID-19 response and recovery

Concerted efforts are needed to ensure response and recovery are inclusive, opportunities are not lost to “build back better” and we are more prepared for the next global pandemic. In order to do this, it is critical that the international community:

-          Involves women and marginalised groups and their representative organisations, including as leaders and decision makers, in the COVID-19 response and recovery.

-          Seeks to understand the drivers of marginalisation and the changing context during COVID-19 through ongoing gender and social analysis. This is critical to identify opportunities and minimise risk to marginalised groups.

-          Ensures the continuation of an effective and unconstrained civil society, through continued support for rights organisations (e.g. women's rights organisations, disabled peoples’ organisations, LGBTQI+ organisations) and civil society organisations, and commitments to transparency and accountability throughout the pandemic and recovery.

-          Considers the intersections between age, gender, disability, SOGIE, ethnicity, migrant/asylum and socioeconomic status and other relevant individual and contextual factors which may have influence on the experience of the COVID-19 crisis, including both response and recovery.

-          Collects disaggregated data, builds the evidence base and gathers lessons learned.

3       Impacts on people with disabilities

While publicly available data on COVID-19 has so far not been disaggregated by disability status, disturbing reports are emerging on the severe and disproportionate impacts on people with disabilities, including primary impacts of the COVID-19 virus itself, and secondary impacts of the response to the pandemic, including on health, food security and livelihoods.

3.1.1      Immediate threats and risks







4       Impacts on violence against women and girls 

Evidence on the impact of COVID-19 is at an early stage, however there are clear trends emerging from numerous countries including a number of HICs and India[2], Brazil[3] and Kenya,[4] showing an increase in VAWG, particularly IPV (Fraser, 2020). This emerging evidence suggests that the COVID-19 outbreak and the stay-at-home orders issued by Governments around the world may inadvertently trigger a “shadow pandemic”[5] of violence against women and girls.

4.1.1      Immediate threats and risks










5       Impacts on LGBTQI+ groups 

Gender disaggregated COVID-19 data and analysis is commonly based on a binary understanding of gender. There is limited evidence that considers the impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people. Despite this blind spot, there are increasingly reports from LGBTIQ and human rights organisations shedding light on how COVID-19 is affecting sexual and gender minorities. The evidence is so far mainly based on news and local organisations and activists reports.

5.1.1      Immediate threats and risks



5 Impacts on women and girls in conflict

To date there is limited publicly available data on the impact of COVID-19 on women in conflict zones, but the pandemic is anticipated to hit conflict-affected states significantly. Emerging testimonies and evidence from previous pandemics suggests a number of possible impacts, worsening the already disproportionate impacts of conflict on women and girls.

5.1.2      Immediate threats and risks






6 Impacts on women’s unpaid care work

Women face a triple disadvantage in the COVID-19 crisis, firstly they are likely to be response for unpaid care work in the household due to pervasive social norms, including prevention and response to COVID-19 and so are more likely to be exposed to the virus, whilst suffering negative impacts on their livelihoods, emotional and physical health (United Nations, 2020; CARE, 2020b). Even before the pandemic, globally women did three times as much unpaid care as men. Now, women with children are having to juggle additional childcare and home-schooling on top of work. Even women without children may find they have increasing caring responsibilities for other family members, such as elders (UN Women, 2020). Evidence from the Ebola outbreak shows that women absorb the additional care burden via ‘self-exploitation, (leading to direct and indirect health impacts on women as a gender), reliance on family, or outsourcing care roles to poorer women’ ( Harman, 2016: 525).


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[1] Including:

Girls. DFID VAWG Helpdesk.





[6] Though not yet evidenced, there is a risk that stigma attached to contracting COVID may be a trigger for VAWG as seen in the HIV/AIDS pandemic (e.g. blaming women for infections, or abandoning women and girls who are ill). See Colombini et al., 2016: