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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?


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.


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.

  • How come Melinda Gates can say that Sex and Gender is BIOLOGICAL and REAL ?
    But others can’t?
    Why aren’t the trans community protesting her ?
    How come Gates hasn’t lost her twitter feed for “Misgendering” Men as not really being woman ? Or misgendering people born with a cervix, but are really men ! ?

  • In this article, the author suggests that the data are not sufficient to draw conclusions about the impact of the virus on men and women. She justifies this by pointing out that we don’t have all the data, but somehow misses that this is the epistemological position in which every conclusion ever has been made. Inductive reasoning and whatnot.

    And what conclusion do scientists draw? A paper in Nature by Scully, Haverfield, et al. found that the CFR for men was, on average, 1.7 times greater than for women based on data from 38 countries. And there are no warnings that we need to wait for more data.

    This gross ignorance (it took only a few minutes to find the above study) or willful elision combined with the general tone is pretty disconcerting to me. I agree that more understanding of the downstream effects of the virus would be generally beneficial. I’m confused why we should only be focused on the harm that comes to women though. Perhaps we should be more concerned about the lack of data regarding men’s issues, given that the second gender doesn’t have large well-funded organizations devoted to studying such things.

    I see this as yet another example of a movement which implores others to be more empathic to groups not their own yet fails fantastically to follow their own advice.

  • We would love to answer that question and perform Research in-depth on local women in comparison to women in the Pacific region although not all the Regional countries had COVID-19. However; impacts on the smaller countries with closed borderd- the economic impact and its effects on women in communities would be great to measure and resolve.
    Thank you

  • Buffet certainly put his $$ in good hands. Wonderful that the foundation is addressing pandemics, at home & abroad; as well as misogyny, & toxic masculinity, the cause of DV; and also major public health crisis in & of themselves. Nice job! Equality works.

  • Wonderful article highlighting the critical importance of capturing disaggregated data for a recovery that redresses inequality and results in better outcomes not just for women but communities and societies as a whole. One difference of opinion as a 20 year veteran in addressing gender-based violence: bad or absent data alone isn’t what prevents policy makers from funding or promoting solutions. It’s also sexism, misogyny and lack of political will. Good data on the prevalence of violence and discrimination against women has been around for decades, presented to session after session of governments at every level and easily accessible to all. It’s a bit circular – if we don’t value women or work traditionally done by women – we will neither accurately count and measure critical info, nor will we act on it once we’ve captured it. And devaluing half the population devalues us all.

  • When I think about how COVID-19 and how it is relevant to women. The first thing I think about is child care and early education. There has been a lot of talk about those jobs, in particular, the government (president) keeps mentioning it because he wants the economy to snap back before the election while putting women that work those jobs lives at risk all in the name of his reelection.

    Statically, more women than men work those jobs; the misinformation that is being spread that children are “immune” to COVID-19 or cannot spread it makes as much sense as saying you should inject yourself with disinfectants.

    I’m not one to say that I see a lot of sexism when it comes to COVID-19, but when you think about the pressure of those jobs continuing despite the rise in COVID cases, it does make you wonder if women who work those jobs lives matter, thus, there could be a case for sexism

  • In additon perhaps if you have documented cases that shows medical research only does case studies in men please share it. I am not in the medical field so I am not familiar with medical research.

  • Suzanne. I am calling out a number of problems with this article. How is it sexist towards women if COVID-19 research does not delineate between men or women. The definition of sexist is “characterized by or showing prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex:” How does this article or any Medical research that doesn’t specify sex be considered sexist towards a woman. It neither mentions men or women. Please clarify because I am missing something.

    • Your right!

      What they really want is “When it suits them, gender exists and its a way to get extra money and power if it helps woman” But if something show the opposite, like a female fire fighter not able to carry out a 300 lb man from burning building, then they won’t mention gender. WOMAN DESERVE TO BE HELPED EQUALLY , BECAUSE THEY ARE EQUALLY HUMAN! But Gates isn
      t a treat people equally kind of person, she’s a discriminate against men type of idiot.

  • Thanks so much, Melinda Gates!

    Medical research and practice is built on data focused only on men only – research, pharma, etc. And somehow the flaw, the bug in the system, continues to repeat, over and over. The only way to correct the repeating flaw is to call it out, and COVID research is a great place to begin.

    • Suzanne. I am calling out a number of problems with this article. How is it sexist towards women if COVID-19 research does not delineate between men or women. The definition of sexist is “characterized by or showing prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex:” How does this article or any Medical research that doesn’t specify sex be considered sexist towards a woman. It neither mentions men or women. Please clarify because I am missing something.

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