Women on the frontlines of the Covid-19 response

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to escalate globally and hits some of the world’s poorest countries, ActionAid is supporting women on the frontlines of the crisis to protect the most marginalised groups.


As a global women’s rights organisation, ActionAid is building on lessons learnt during the Ebola crisis by supporting its network of local partners and women’s rights organisations to share vital public health information with vulnerable communities.

Michelle Higelin, Executive Director of ActionAid Australia, said: “Humanitarian crises and health emergencies exacerbate existing gender inequalities and increase the risk of violence against women and girls.

“Women are on the frontlines of the Covid-19 response both as the majority of the health workforce and as unpaid carers at home. Making up around 70% of the informal economy in low income countries, women have no social safety net.

“Stress, money worries and lockdowns are increasing the likelihood of domestic violence, with survivors forced to stay at home with their abusers. While school closures can put girls at risk of early marriage.

“ActionAid supports women’s leadership in times of crisis because we recognise that women’s local knowledge and networks are crucial to effective responses and women are best placed to address the disproportionate impact of emergencies on their lives.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to ensure that women’s protection and leadership are central to Covid-19 response plans locally and globally.”

People living in poverty, the majority of whom are women, will be hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic particularly in countries where health systems are weak. ActionAid is mobilising around the world to support women on the frontlines of this crisis.

In Vanuatu, women’s networks supported by ActionAid are leading the distribution of vital public health messages to tackle the spread of misinformation and protect communities against the spread of the virus.

Women Wetem Weta (Women’s Weather Watch) worked with the Vanuatu government to translate official public health advice into local languages. Using an early warning network developed for disaster preparation with support from the Australian Aid Program, women sent the first public health message about Covid-19 by SMS. The message was delivered to 25% of the population including women in the most marginalised communities.

In India, where 1.3 billion people have been told to stay at home, ActionAid is distributing food packages and aims to reach more than 55,000 of the most vulnerable families, including informal workers, such as domestic workers and street vendors, who will have no way to earn a living during the lockdown.

Globally, ActionAid is calling on governments to ensure that social protections target women, whose care duties will double as they are at the forefront of caring for the sick, home-schooling, working informal jobs and collecting water

In Liberia, ActionAid is using lessons learnt during the Ebola crisis to access hard to reach communities by supporting its network of local partners, including women’s rights organisations and rural women’s leaders, to distribute life-saving advice and health information. Social media and virtual meetings are being used to mobilise communities and spread awareness messages.

During the Ebola crisis there was a dramatic increase in violence against women and girls, as police were unable to respond, support services reduced, and survivors were left unable to access justice.

In Kenya, ActionAid organisation works in informal settlements, which are overcrowded and likely to be worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak. It has supported the humanitarian response to the Covid-19 pandemic by distributing information and myth-busting leaflets to communities through its network of women’s collectives and community groups.

ActionAid is calling on the governments to ensure guaranteed paid sick leave is available to all workers, both in the formal and informal sectors, and that people living in informal settlements will have access to free, clean, drinking water and health facilities staffed by skilled professionals.

In Italy, the country worst affected by the pandemic to date, ActionAid has set up a digital community platform for sharing information about Covid-19, including news, solidarity initiatives, home shopping deliveries, fundraisers, psychological support and a section that tackles ‘fake news’ about the outbreak.

The organisation is also raising awareness about the risks faced by survivors of domestic violence during the lockdown. ActionAid has created a fund to support anti-violence centres and guarantee their work can continue during and after the emergency. This is focused on giving women, who face economic pressures due to the pandemic, an escape route from violence.

For more information and interviews, contact Liz Pick, ActionAid’s Media Manager on +61(0)422105840 or email [email protected].