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As pandemic-driven health, social, economic, and hunger crises deepen across the globe, it is increasingly clear that COVID-19 is widening systemic inequalities that have long affected women, girls, and other people who face discrimination because of race and migration status. These dynamics threaten decades of progress in realizing the rights and equalities that all people should enjoy, and that women have fought hard to claim. CARE has warned from the beginning that the pandemic would have a disproportionate impact on women and girls. But foresight is only as good as the action it enables. The efficacy of CARE’s and others’ COVID-19 responses depends on understanding how marginalized people are affected, in all their diversity, across contexts, and over time. Women’s needs are routinely overlooked without deliberate efforts to fill persistent gender data gaps. So we sought the advice of experts: women themselves.

Across nearly 40 countries, the voices of more than 6,000 women bear out the dire predictions from March: that COVID-19 would result in catastrophic impacts across multiple dimensions of their lives. The growing scope of CARE’s data enables us to make more confident, global conclusions about the experiences of both women and men. Among those surveyed, women were more likely than men to report challenges across a range of areas:

• Livelihoods: 55% of the women CARE spoke to reported that income loss was one of the biggest impacts COVID-19 had for them, compared with only 34% of men. Women are more likely to work in the informal sector that COVID-19 is hitting the hardest, and have less access to unemployment benefits.

• Food security: 41% of women and 30% of men reported lack of food was a key impact COVID-19 had on their lives. This difference reflects deeply entrenched gender inequalities in local and global food systems.

• Mental health: One of the most striking differences is around mental health, where 27% of women reported this was a key impact of COVID-19—compared with only 10% of men. Women especially point to skyrocketing unpaid care burdens as a source of this stress, in addition to worries about livelihoods, food, and health care.

These findings reinforce the understanding that men and women prioritize, experience, and report on issues differently. The gaps these findings reveal illustrate the vital importance of listening to many voices, and giving diverse groups of women equal opportunity to influence people who make decisions about COVID-19 support. Only by examining these differences can we ensure that responses are designed to work effectively and reach people with the assistance they need most.

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