New CARE report: how COVID-19 is changing gender norms in West Africa

Photo: VSLA/MJT Mali – Social distancing while maintaining solidarity and the social safety net 

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 20 May, 2020. Women are excluded from information sharing on COVID-19 and from key high level decision making processes at national and regional level, says a new West Africa CARE gender analysis. Despite this, the analysis reveals how coronavirus is also creating opportunities to disrupt deeply entrenched gender inequalities.

CARE interviewed more than 260 people representing communities, health ministries and local aid organizations, from 12 West African countries and found some major gaps including in terms of access to basic needs like food and handwashing supplies, health services and official information on prevention measures. Despite this, the analysis also revealed emerging examples of women’s innovation and resilience in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The vast majority of countries in West Africa like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are very fragile. COVID-19 is expected to severely exacerbate an already volatile situation, particularly in the Sahel Region. Here, COVID-19 adds to an existing combination of poverty, climate change impacts, low human development and conflict. 

“Over 44 million people in our region were already in urgent need of humanitarian assistance before the pandemic, and national response plans remain significantly underfunded,” explains Claudine Mensah Awute, CARE Regional Director for West Africa. “The many critical gaps across the region force both us, as humanitarians, and families in dire need to undertake challenging prioritization exercises on a daily basis.”

COVID-19 is also disproportionately impacting women and girls across the West Africa region. As Awute notes; “information sharing and dissemination of hygiene and prevention messaging is one good example of gender bias, as many of the traditional media outlets used to communicate on this pandemic are not sensitive to the specific needs of women.”

She adds; “Despite this, there are also some emerging rays of hope and opportunities for women. The majority of respondents in our survey said that there had been an increase in shared decision making on the management of household resources, and we have seen some ingenious innovation projects from amongst the communities we work with such as the construction of washing stands using only simple, local materials and the sewing of face masks by women’s groups.”

In Ghana, one of the countries most affected by COVID-19, and with currently up to more than 5,400 cases[i], participants of the survey already reported significant positive changes since COVID-19 was recorded in the country: “My husband is a teacher and since schools have been closed down, he is at home and provides support with the household chores whilst I go to work,” explains Mavis Owusu, Community Development Officer in the Western North region of Ghana. “We run a shift system due to the social distancing directive from the government so I report to work three times in a week. My workload in the house has reduced significantly as a result of the help I receive from my husband. He also spends more time with the kids by teaching them.”


Rapid Gender Analysis - COVID-19 West Africa - English

Analyse rapide du genre - COVID-19 Afrique de l'Ouest - French

Main findings: 

  • Women choose food: Food and income are two of their biggest priorities in the current situation. With markets closing and incomes shrinking, women are having to choose between buying food for their families and getting the soap they need to wash their hands more often. 
  • Economic situation: The most significant effects of COVID-19 are the reduction of economic activities and income. Businesses closing or reducing their activities, and the loss of work for many informal and daily wage workers has a huge impact on many working women, as well as increasing strain on them when it comes to managing their household’s income.
  • Strengthening economic activities: Networking of community-based organizations, VSLAs in particular, needs to be encouraged to strengthen income-generating activities such as the production of soap, to provide market stimulating responses to meet basic needs.
  • Access to health care services: fear of contracting the disease combined with a mistrust of health workers means less women are accessing services like reproductive health which could lead to increased maternal and neonatal mortality.
  • Information sharing: Women and youth need to be connected with media agencies and mobile companies for the production of information on COVID-19. Rumors are spreading faster than official information. A large segment of the population does not have access to information on the virus and best practice hygiene measures for containing it. This is particularly the case for women; in 2019, the digital divide between men and women was most marked in Africa with only 18.6% of women using the Internet compared to 24.9% of men.
  • Decision making: While some women’s groups such as the savings group FaFaWa in Benin, MMD in Niger, MJT in Mali or VSLA in general have been involved in decision making this participation of women is not systematic and is reliant on them balancing household responsibilities.

Notes to editors: 

For the West Africa Rapid Gender Analysis - COVID-19, CARE interviewed a total of 266 people (52% women and 48% men) representing the communities, technical and health ministries, UN agencies and international NGOs and women's rights organizations across 12 countries in West Africa. The analysis was conducted in April using a do no harm approach, with a focus on mitigating the risk to CARE staff and communities data collection was done remotely by phone, using instant messaging services, or when appropriate face-to-face using distancing measures. 

Spokes women: 

Claudine Awute, CARE Regional Director, West Africa (English and French)

Aisha Rahamatali, CARE Regional Advocacy Coordinator, West Africa (English and French)

CARE International: 

CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty by lifting up women and girls. It reached 68 million vulnerable people in 100 countries around the world in 2019. Since the onset of COVID, CARE has pivoted its life-saving food security, health services, educational, and women’s empowerment programming to directly fighting the spread and impact of the disease. As of April 17th, 2020, CARE has reached 107.4 million people with COVID-specific or adapted programs. 1.9 million people have been directly reached with hygiene messaging, 601,000 with hygiene kits, 773,000 with increased water, 114,000 with food or cash/vouchers and 22,800 with handwashing stations.

Media Contact: 

Ninja Taprogge, COVID-19 Global Media Coordinator

[email protected]

+49 151 701 674 97


[i] WHO Situation Report – 115, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), 14 May 2020: