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How many women have died of Covid-19?

How many women have lost their jobs in the economic crisis it created?

And how many have had to stop working because schools and day cares have closed and now have to take on unforeseen and added child care responsibilities?

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I don’t know the full answer to any of these questions. No one does. When it comes to the pandemic and its effect on women, too often we just don’t have the numbers.

Earlier this month, I wrote an article in the journal Foreign Affairs about how the pandemic is affecting women differently than men. We know, for instance, that domestic violence is increasing amid lockdowns and that women’s jobs are more likely to be cut. But the truth is, we don’t have a full sense of the scale: According to a report from Data2X and Open Data Watch, there isn’t nearly enough information to understand the effects of the crisis on unpaid care work, employment in the informal economy, or the well-being of girls. The list goes on.

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Even when it comes to the virus itself, the data are spotty and often blind to sex: As of July 24, only 64 governments had provided information on Covid-19 cases and deaths fully broken down by sex. Preliminary analysis in June from the World Health Organization and UN Women noted that less than half of reported cases included information on both sex and age. Data disaggregated by other demographic factors has been even harder to come by.

Without a clear picture of the devastation, responses to Covid-19 risk leaving out millions of women and girls and slowing recovery. If governments, for instance, aren’t counting the number of women who’ve had to drop out of the workforce, they may overlook the urgent need for child care legislation.

No business would make decisions based on information that excludes 50% of its customers; governments shouldn’t either. Here are four things all governments must do immediately.

First, countries should collect and report data on Covid-19 tests, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths that is disaggregated at the very least by sex and age. This disease is attacking all of humanity, though not equally, and we need to understand the different experiences of different populations.

In the United States, for example, we have a lot to learn about how Covid-19 affects women of color. That’s because states have been slow to provide data systematically broken down by sex or race — and it’s been even harder to find data cut by both. Indeed, wherever possible, countries should disaggregate data by these factors and more.

Second, governments and other organizations should use current and future data collection efforts to close existing gender data gaps. In the coming months, there will be a flurry of data gathered on issues related to the recovery, from health to education to the results of stimulus programs. Researchers need to ensure these studies include the experiences of women and girls.

In the short term, organizations can tap into technical resources like the University of California, San Diego’s EMERGE project (which is supported by the Gates Foundation). It has developed guidance and tools that can be used in already planned surveys to capture gender data on issues from unpaid work to physical and mental health. In the longer term, countries can look to efforts such as those in Kenya, where the government added questions about gender equality and women’s empowerment to its 2020 national economic survey.

Moreover, the world should seize this moment to deepen the knowledge base about specific challenges facing women and girls. For example, although the World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 3 women globally has experienced gender-based violence, when it comes to country-level data, most countries only have blanks and question marks. Because policymakers do not know the true extent of violence against women inside their borders, they don’t set aside sufficient funding for it in their budgets. More data could mean more funding for prevention and response, more effective solutions, and ultimately less violence.

Third, to rebuild now as well as to prepare for future emergencies, countries need to invest in the ability of national statistics offices to collect, disaggregate, and analyze data. In a recent survey, about half of the statistics offices in low- and middle-income countries reported a funding decrease because of the outbreak. That is a shortsighted move. An investment in better data today will come back to us in a healthier, better prepared tomorrow.

Fourth, countries must commit to using gender data to develop and implement evidence-based policies. The best data in the world won’t do much good if they sit on a shelf collecting dust. Put to work, though, data can help craft effective policies.

Data can make the invisible visible, and Covid-19 is showing us how important it is to see every aspect of a crisis. It’s time governments around the world start basing their pandemic response on data that are more complete, more reliable, and less sexist.

Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  • Joe, you made a terrific point by saying that if a man wrote this article that it would not get published. I could just imagine the outrage. I am only on Linkedin because I thought it was not political. Just like the left to politicize yet another platform. I am still mourning over the lost of the NFL. I am as conservative as they come and I stand up for woman’s rights. Thanks for the support on my 1950s reference.

  • This is a typical statement of the world only woman look after children and have automatic right as the main parent. So much for an equal world on rights and parenting. This article is certainly sexist against one sex and that is of good and honest men who are loving and caring fathers. Please understand and do your research on a balanced footing. If this was a man that written this article it wouldn’t have got published as it would have to be balanced. A balanced ideology on such topics would be more fitting. Lack of understanding of Co- parenting is apparent. Loads of fathers also worked from home during covid and parent, play, read stories and have fire chats, feed, tuck their children in at night and more. Scott has hit the nail on the head in reference to 1950’s thinking.

    In reference to DV
    The current states on DV don’t give the true reflection of the real story. Theres individuals using DV as a block to Co parenting and providing false stories for their own gain. The individual that wrote the artical should research into false accusations however such data would be difficult to obtain because its brushed under the carpet. I feel for those individuals with genuine DV cases as those with false stories are draining the resources. Please have a better balance of the true stories out there as those stories are not caught in the stats. Defining one sex as a victim in covid19 is deplorable. This article is sexist to those that are more than female / male sex, what about those none binary, trans and so forth. Covid19 doesn’t care, but it takes lives of those that are weak or strong and those in the middle. Covid19 is a game of chance and affects everyone equally.

  • I agree with the findings and points that are highlighed in the article.

    In my opinion Governments need to create iniatiative to alleviate the current social challenges that the pandemic has created. A greater focus needs to placed in assisting people to cope with the lifestyle and economical changes. Therefore more iniatiatives or educational drives about mental health should be created, free couselling services should be made available to people who are finding themselves in situations were they feel that they can not cope. This will lessen the number of domestic violence cases.

  • I had to read this article again to make sure I did not miss something. I did not miss anything. What I am about to say does not come from anger but from common sense. How do you entitle an article as “Sexist” but only mention one sex in the article. I think your description of the woman’s role as described in this article is sexist. For example the following statement sets the tone for the entire article. “ For governments, for instance, aren’t counting the number of women who’ve had to drop out of the workforce, they may overlook the urgent need for child care legislation.“ Are you saying that only women take care of the kids? Please clarify this statement. As a father of 4 children I help with their homework (math and science since that are my strong areas. I am an Engineer). I make sure they get up in the morning and get off to School (pre-covid). I thought we were past these 1950’s roles. If you have data to show different facts please share. In conclusion I think if you look at the data you will find more men have suffered and died from COVID-19 then woman. This is just my observation in my home town.

  • Good to know that data collection is a sector that needs more attention and funding in developing countries. Please join us tomorrow on the African Union-Ecosoc e-Symposion on the Role of the African Women in another all-time impacting and not gender neutral phenemonon in the Region: conflicts and wars that are a constant and lasting crisis that also needs solutions and data collection. Thank you.

  • As a survivor of COVID-19 I feel grateful for everything I have. My wife, my 4 children, my job. G-d has given me all that I have and I am eternally grateful. This virus does not discriminate on sex, race political or religious affiliation. Wondering about how this virus has affected a specific group of people and then manipulating the data to the outcome you seek is not science. It is moving your personal agenda forward. Remember that we are all G-d’s children.

  • It’s good to see womens place being examined and explored. COVID clearly demonstrates there are chemical reasons for men being more vulnerable to the virus, this may mean in the future and population sex imbalance similar to post world wars when so many men did not come home. Or came home in desperate health. Womens body chemistry may require us to step up, just as women did in the wars, working in munitions, farms and factories. Where will we be in 10 years without a vaccine?

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