COVID-19: The Gendered Impacts and How to Respond

Well folks, we’re off the charts, quite literally. Vulnerable people are dying at an alarming rate. Markets are dropping and jumping and dropping again as more people test positive for COVID-19. Health care workers are risking their lives by going to work, and many of us are spending more time social distancing than humanity may have ever tried before. It’s all quite surreal. And we’re not even talking about the gendered impacts yet.

Some leaders in philanthropy are responding to the health crisis with concern and plans to help.

gendered impacts
The Kaiser Family Foundation is providing a database of funders for COVID-19. (Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation)

The Kaiser Family Foundation has put together a Donor Funding for COVID-19 Response list, and there you can find organizations funding the research and the medical response to the unprecedented outbreak. Most of the funding listed here is going to China, and all of this funding is brand new, starting in January 2020.

In the U.S., funding for addressing the COVID-19 crisis is even more novel. On Feb 11, Jeff Bezos released a statement saying that Amazon was launching a $25 million relief fund for drivers and seasonal workers due to the coronavirus outbreak. On March 9, it was announced that Amazon and Microsoft were both donating $1 million to a Seattle-based fund fighting COVID-19 there, after the state had suffered 19 deaths.

As things got more serious, more funders and plans started to appear. On March 10, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Wellcome and Mastercard, launched a $125 million to accelerate progress toward finding a vaccine for COVID. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have announced increased funding for Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to buy testing equipment for COVID testing in the Bay area. Chinese Billionaire Jack Ma, who had already donated 14.4 million to the outbreak in China, has pledged to give half a million testing kits for COVID and one million face masks to the U.S. In Boston, a Chinese property development company has teamed up with Boston scientists and has given $111 million in funding to tackle COVID.

The United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation have set up a fund via the World Health Organization for people to donate.


On March 6, the Lancet published an important article detailing the likely gendered impacts of COVID. The World Economic Forum also published this piece discussing why and how the pandemic is likely to impact women more severely. The bottom line is that women get moved further down on the list of priorities when national emergencies come up, and they are often limited in their powers for decision-making in many environments that relate to the emergency. They also are more likely to be in frontline caregiving roles that put them at higher risk for exposure to COVID.

Women Leaders and Donors Speak Up and Provide Guidance

One important way that women are fighting back is by demanding that testing for COVID be provided free of charge, as Rep. Katie Porter (D-California) did last Friday.

Some women leaders in philanthropy are providing sound advice for how to stay safe and maintain your well-being during this time. In this piece called “Are You Scared?, Ruth Ann Harnisch outlines several strategies for maintaining your calm and helping others get through the crisis. Jacki Zehner wrote a poem which helps to show the way the crisis is putting things in perspective. Other women leaders in philanthropy have been sharing informational social media posts and discussing news of funding to stop COVID in the U.S.

One of the big points being made across philanthropy is that funders need to keep funding the organizations they already support, and for gender equality funders, that is probably even more true. Organizations like Women for Women International are accepting donations to teach sanitation and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in developing nations. Other women’s organizations will be coming forward with strategies to address the pandemic, and funding these strategies will be as important as ever, if not even more important.

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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