How Has COVID-19 Affected Women in the Global South?

A new report from the Feminist Humanitarian Network has found a drastic decrease in funding for women in the Global South.

The Feminist Humanitarian Network has released a new report viewing the COVID-19 pandemic through a gender lens. (Image credit: Feminist Humanitarian Network)
The Feminist Humanitarian Network has released a new report viewing the COVID-19 pandemic through a gender lens. (Image credit: Feminist Humanitarian Network)

The Feminist Humanitarian Network released new findings and recommendations from its “Women’s Humanitarian Voices: Covid-19 through a feminist lens” report examining the role of Women’s Rights Organizations (WROs) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The report shows the solutions WROs established to overcome funding challenges that worsened for organisations representing women and girls in the Global South, and illustrates the patriarchal humanitarian and government systems WROs operate within that continue to exclude them from decision-making in crisis response and recovery planning. The report brings together key learnings from research in eight countries – Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Lebanon, Palestine, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Overwhelming evidence indicates that throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, WROs continue to play a critical role in ensuring access to vital health & education services for women and children, support services to respond to increased levels of gender-based violence, and financial support for women whose livelihoods have been compromised. In each of the research countries, the findings highlight that one of the greatest strengths of WROs is their close connection and implicit trust with communities, making them uniquely equipped to run prevention and awareness-raising activities.

Yet the exclusion of WROs from emergency committees was a recurrent theme in the country reports and stark data reveals how the pandemic and the response to it disproportionately impacted women, illuminating long-standing systemic challenges that are also relevant to crises beyond the pandemic. In Lebanon, one organisation reported that violence against women in 2020 had increased by 60 percent and against children by 30 percent compared to 2019. WROs in Nepal and Palestine reported an increase in suicide and suicidal tendencies amongst women. In Palestine, self-harm increased drastically for women, with a 466% increase since 2019 (or six times higher than in pre-Covid-19 times).

Key findings show that WROs encountered a number of bureaucratic challenges accessing funding from United Nations agencies and International Non-Governmental Organizations. These ranged from excessive due diligence and permit requirements to qualify the organizations for funding, to programs that outright excluded them from information about funding opportunities. The impact of these exclusionary systems hindered the scope and continuity of services WROs could provide during the Covid-19 crisis and also compromised their long-term sustainability.

“WROs are on the frontlines of crisis and disasters – they are often the first to respond, they ensure that nobody in the communities they work in is left behind, and that humanitarian action is linked to long term work to advance women’s rights. And yet this work and leadership role goes unrecognised, partly because as WROs we don’t have the same funding as bigger actors, like INGOs, to showcase our achievements and our innovative approaches. This needs to change,” said Naomi Tulay-Solanke, Feminist Humanitarian Network Steering Committee member and Executive Director of Community Healthcare Initiative, Liberia. 

The services WROs provided in the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic included ongoing access to sexual and reproductive health, and maternal, newborn and child health care; establishing safehouses, and resources for those impacted by gender injustice and violence such as WhatsApp messaging as an alternative to telephone helplines that became unsafe to use during lockdowns; and cash distributions and zero percent loans to offset the financial burdens of lost incomes and increased poverty due to the pandemic. 

“Despite facing adversities, WROs across the Global South shared a sense of unity and collective action to overcome the challenges presented by the system,” said Sumeera Strestha, Feminist Humanitarian Network member and Executive Director of Women for Human Rights – single women’s group, Nepal. “By working together in the spirit of sisterhood, we were able to have our voices heard and to share resources to coordinate responses. Throughout Covid-19, WROs’ solutions to funding challenges included undertaking community fundraising and in some cases funding relief efforts from their personal resources.” 

The report details several recommendations to ensure that WROs are able to continue the essential work they are doing to reach the most vulnerable groups and communities they work in and represent. Topline recommendations include:

  • Leadership: National governments must include WROs and the women they represent at all levels of decision-making during emergencies without exception. 
  • Funding: Donor governments, UN agencies and other donors should fund WROs that work at local and grassroots levels directly with flexible, long term funding, and should minimise bureaucratic requirements that exclude most WROs. 
  • Gender-based violence: All must recognise that the existing, ongoing global pandemic of violence against women and girls has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and take urgent and effective action.
  • Livelihoods and access to critical services: National and local governments must ensure that service provision that protects women’s rights and supports livelihoods and economic opportunities is inclusive.
  • Operations: Donors and the international community more broadly must immediately acknowledge and prioritise equal access to the internet, and digital technology and infrastructure to ensure that WROs are not excluded through online ways of working. 
  • Compounding crises: Governments and the international community must acknowledge the critical role WROs play to address the gendered impacts of crisis, and that this role is even more critical when different crises occur simultaneously. Password Required: FeministHumNet.

To view the full report which is embargoed until May 20, 2021, go to

About The Feminist Humanitarian Network

The Feminist Humanitarian Network is an international network of women leaders committed to a transformed humanitarian system that promotes a feminist humanitarian agenda.
The Feminist Humanitarian Network is member based, comprised of local and national women’s rights organisations, national and regional women’s networks, international NGOs, academic organisations, funding institutions, and individuals. 

Our vision is of a global humanitarian system that is responsive, accountable and accessible to women and their organisations, in all their diversity; that challenges rather than perpetuates structural inequalities. 


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