Gendered Consequences of COVID-19 Emergency Measures

This piece first appeared on Medium.

One of the most common measures across the globe to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce public health systems’ stress is the implementation of restrictions on citizens’ mobility and stay-at-home orders. While this measure has proven effective in containing COVID-19 contagion, it has gendered implications because the home emerges not only as a place of safeguard to reduce COVID-19 transmission, but also as a place of subordination, labor, and violence that disproportionately affects marginalized gender identities.

Gender-based violence is a ubiquitous policy issue worldwide which disproportionately affects women and girls and is most commonly exercised by intimate partners at gender-based violence survivors’ homes. According to UN Women, gender-based violence, a persistent human rights violation, escalated during COVID-19 lockdowns evidenced by increased demand for domestic violence services across the world, including the United States (Mlambo-Ngcuka, 2020 April 6th). However, sharp decreases in domestic violence reports are also concerning since they may indicate increased difficulty in reporting during quarantine (Southall, 2020).

Despite the gendered consequences of COVID-19 policy decisions, women have not been well represented in government crisis management committees and a gender perspective in the early stages of governments’ pandemic responses has been largely overlooked (Farrar & Rao Gupta, 2020, April 3rd). Widespread lack of diversity in emergency committees and decision-making processes may influence the framing of governments’ responses to the pandemic and result in data and cognitive gaps about gendered and intersectional consequences of crisis response measures that disproportionately affect marginalized groups (Harman, 2016; Smith, 2016). Addressing this gap becomes even more critical considering that government responses to the pandemic may last through 2022 (Kissler, Tedijanto, Goldstein, Grad, & Lipsitch, 2020).

As part of the systematizations of government responses to the COVID-19 crisis, we mapped Argentinean National and provincial policy decisions concerning gender-based violence within the first month of mandatory stay-at-home order — from March, 20th to April, 20th — . Argentina has displayed practical and strategic policy measures to face the gendered consequences of mandatory confinement since the early stages of COVID-19 crisis management. The most salient measures and observations include:

Development of alternative reporting mechanisms. The national helpline was declared an essential service and reinforced with personnel and new technologies to develop alternative non-verbal report mechanisms, including WhatsApp numbers — later centralized into a single number through a partnership with Facebook — , an email account, and a helpline cellphone App. These resources were promoted through television, radio, and social media.

Exceptions to mandatory stay-at-home orders. Removal of mobility restrictions to individuals reporting gender-based violence, automatic extensions applied in most of the jurisdictions to prior protection measures (such as restraining orders), and authorization of gender-based violence facilities to operate within sanitary protocols.

Campaigns appealing to the co-responsibility of care and redistribution of domestic tasks.Campaigns addressed historical and systemic causes of gender-based violence from a sociological perspective pointing out the link between the unequal distribution of tasks related to care and gender-based violence. Instructions to separated parents and caregivers with children were also provided during the mandatory lockdown.

“Red Mask” campaign. Replication of Spain’s campaign — also implemented in France and Chile — in collaboration with the Argentine Pharmaceutical Confederation. Individuals could use the codework “red mask” to indicate gender-based violence in pharmacies, a space exempted from the lockdown that could be used as a safe space to receive support. This codeword activated a protocol to automatically connect survivors with helplines.

Reinforcement of inter-institutional and inter-sectoral policy coordination and communication. Federal forums were held with subnational governments, other countries, and international and domestic civil society and community-based organizations. The recently created Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity also prepared a series of model policy recommendations for subnational governments to address an uptick in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 mandatory confinement.

Policies promoted in the provinces. Provinces’ responses varied greatly. The most promoted resources were helpline channels. Salient but less widespread strategies consisted of information campaigns targeting male perpetrators and the publications of statistics about the demand for services and resources. Some provinces also followed the national campaign appealing to the co-responsibility of care and redistribution of domestic tasks as well as the “Red Mask” code campaign. A common challenge across many jurisdictions was the contained promotion of resources in provincial women’s agencies. This circumscription may indicate challenges to integral and comprehensive approaches to gender-based violence and vertical and horizontal policy coordination.

Concluding comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many of the structural inequities across many societies in terms of race, class, healthcare access, and gender. The intensification of gender structural inequalities amid the pandemic is escalating gender-based violence. A multilayered and coordinated response is needed to address not only the immediate consequences of gender violence but also its cultural and social roots. Four points can be highlighted from the observations of the Argentinean case:

1. Government information campaigns must highlight the structural causes of gender-based violence such as the unequal distribution of non-paid labor and the extra burden placed on women in the home,

2. Communications should directly target the male audience to change harmful learned behavior and domestic roles,

3. The need for a transverse gender perspective throughout public organizations in response to protective orders that may disproportionately affect marginalized and subordinated groups, and

4. The value of incorporating a gender lens in crisis management and response teams at early stages.


This post is based on the viewpoint article Administrative Response to Consequences of COVID-19 Emergency Responses: Observations and Implications From Gender-Based Violence in Argentina, American Review of Public Administration, First Published July 15, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1177/0275074020942081.

Luciana Polischuk

Written by Luciana Polischuk, Ph.D. student in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at The Florida State University, and Daniel Fay, associate professor in the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at The Florida State University.

The feature image is from Reuters.

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