Pacific Women Thematic Brief: Gender and COVID-19 in the Pacific

This Thematic Brief provides information and analysis about gendered impacts and priorities for responses to COVID-19 in the Pacific. It has been developed by the Support Unit for Pacific Women, connecting more than 170 gender equality initiatives supported by the Australian Government and implemented by over 160 partners across 14 Pacific Island countries. Refer to the Pacific Women COVID-19 webpage for a full list of resources and partner stories.


Gendered impacts and recommendations for response 

The ten key messages in this Thematic Brief provide information and analysis about the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific and priorities for responses. The messages, while not an exhaustive list, provide a summary of the key gendered impacts highlighted by development actor reports, civil society organisations, anecdotal evidence from Pacific Women partners, media and other sources.

  1. Women and girls are at increased risk of men’s physical and sexual violence. During a crisis, existing gender inequalities are magnified, with women having considerably less autonomy and mobility leading to increases in men’s violence against women.
  2. Women and girls take on the additional labour of caring for repatriated relatives and children out of school. Women’s unpaid household labour has increased as people move from urban areas to rural areas. Women are expected to care for migrating and returning extended family and meet traditional family and community obligations.
  3. Women are central to the COVID-19 health response. Women health care workers and support staff are at the frontline in the case of an outbreak, as health care professionals but also cleaners and carers. In the Pacific, overloaded and under resourced health systems will increase the dangers for health care workers if they are exposed to the disease.
  4. Women’s and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health is disrupted and rights are compromised. The essential services required for women’s health and survival, such as maternal health care and contraception, are disrupted during crises due to transport restrictions, closure of clinics and stock outages of essential commodities.
  5. Women’s livelihoods are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and they are experiencing unemployment and economic insecurity. Women overall earn less than men and are more likely to work in low-paying, informal and precarious work. Women in the Pacific are therefore particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 on the current economic system, long after the initial emergency is over.
  6. COVID-19 responses need to reach vulnerable groups. During times of crisis and hardship, marginalised groups face increased vulnerabilities, from heightened health risks, through to hunger, neglect and violence. This is due to existing discrimination and inequality (which is heightened during a crisis) and lowered availability and access to public health information and services.
  7. Women’s and girls’ participation, leadership and decision making in all aspects of COVID-19 response planning and implementation is essential. Women’s participation and leadership is essential for an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for mobilising communities and health communications.
  8. The COVID-19 pandemic increases women’s and girls’ responsibilities and needs in relation to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). With the outbreak of COVID-19, women and girls face additional risks and household labour in relation to WASH. In remote areas, clean water may not readily be available. The effects of quarantine and travel measures that restrict access to water and privacy may impede women’s and girls’ menstrual hygiene management.
  9. Women and girls are at risk of violence and exploitation due to securitisation of the COVID-19 response. The vulnerability of women and girls to harassment, rape and sexual exploitation (including sex exchanged for food and basic goods) increases under securitised conditions such as states of emergency and expanded police powers.
  10. Adolescent girls (aged 10–19 years) face specific challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Particular impacts on adolescent girls related to their age and developmental stage include the loss of peer support leading to depression and anxiety; an increased propensity risk-taking behaviours; and disruption to education and the higher possibility of not returning to school.

For more details, refer to the Thematic Brief – Gender and COVID-19 in the Pacific


The priorities listed below will support gender-responsive approaches toward addressing the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic :

  • Embed gender indicators within COVID-19 response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into response teams.
  • Disaggregate data related to the COVID-19 pandemic by sex, age, gender identity, disability and other vulnerability factors.
  • Prioritise understanding and analysing gendered differences between women and men. This includes the different experiences between women and men experience of rates of infection, economic impacts, the care burden and incidents of violence and sexual abuse.
  • Ensure women are represented at all stages of decision-making from community to government levels.
  • Ensure human rights are central to the response. Provide accurate and supportive care and messaging with the intention of enhancing people’s safety, dignity and rights. Ensure that any targeted programming does not exacerbate stigma or discrimination due to gender, age, citizenship status, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and other factors.

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