About the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal collates and reviews health policies from 76 countries to understand whether and how gender is included in these policies, which populations they target and whether human rights and equity are considered in the response.

COVID-19 is a gendered pandemic. The health of people of different genders is being differentially impacted by the virus itself and by measures adopted by governments in response. Biological sex (which influences hormonal, immunological and physiological systems in the body) and gender (socially constructed and influencing roles, norms, expectations, power and position for all people in society) both play an important role in how individuals and communities experience the pandemic.

Data from the GH5050 COVID-19 Sex-disaggregated Data Tracker shows that men and women experience differences in COVID-19 health outcomes across the exposure-to-outcome pathway. Globally, men are less likely to be tested for COVID-19, more likely to be hospitalised, and more likely to die from the virus, compared to women. Data from transgender and non-binary people are regretably absent from national surveillance data.

From an individual’s risk of exposure to the virus to their ability to access services and the severity of disease, gender plays a role in shaping an individual’s experience of COVID-19. In some countries the high proportion of cases among men may result from gender norms around who participates in the paid labour market, while in other settings where women make up the majority of frontline health and social care workers they face increased exposure to infection.

Access to health services may be limited for people without the financial resources, inhibiting women’s access in some settings. The chronic diseases associated with higher COVID-19 death rates are frequently more common in men and often associated with men’s higher rates of exposure to unhealthy behaviours and environments (such as tobacco use, exposure to air pollution, and poor diets).

Evidence from past pandemics suggests that considering gender and intersecting vulnerabilities when designing and delivering interventions will improve health outcomes for everyone. Failing to account for these inequities can leave vulnerable and marginalised groups bearing a disproportionate burden of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization has recommended a number of public health interventions that every country should consider in their pandemic responses. Gender-responsive approaches to many of these areas can improve outcomes and ensure more equitable pandemic responses (see Methods for further details on the WHO framework). Of these, this review has identified six key areas of a gender-responsive health policy response:

Six WHO-derived areas of a gender-responsive COVID-19 health policy response 1https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/strategic-preparedness-and-response-plan-for-the-new-coronavirus

Vaccine uptake
Do strategies for vaccinating the population against COVID-19 recognise gender differences in vaccine acceptability, access and uptake and adopt measures to ensure equitable vaccination?
Public health messaging
Is government messaging designed to target different populations and ensure that all genders have equitable access to information on how to mitigate risk of infection and when and how to access diagnostic testing?
Clinical COVID-19 guidelines
Do healthcare sector guidelines on the management of cases of COVID-19 account for the impact of sex and gender on COVID-19 health outcomes for men, women and gender minorities?
Protection of healthcare professions
Do policies recognise the gendered distribution of infection risk and the different protective equipment and psychological support needs of men, women and gender minorities in the healthcare workforce?
COVID-19 surveillance
Do strategies to map the impact of COVID-19 in a country record and analyse data in a gender disaggregated way and ensure surveillance measures, including testing and death registration, reach all populations?
Essential health services
Do decisions around which health services are to be prioritised alongside COVID-19 care and treatment recognise the specific health needs of people of different genders as well as marginalised and high-risk populations?

For an analysis of the COVID-19-response activities taken by global health actors beyond governments and recommendations for gender-responsive interventions see our 2021 Report Gender Equality: Flying blind in a time of crisis.

Policy-makers

  • Compare your country’s performance on gender-responsiveness, human rights and equity with other countries. In areas where your country’s policies aren’t performing well, use the Global Policy Index to identify high-scoring policies and examples of best practice in this area.
  • If your country is not performing well according to the assessment in the Global Policy Index, explore ways to collaborate with gender experts and civil society in the design of pandemic response policies. 
  • Explore the collection of resources and policy briefs for designing gender-responsive policy responses to the COVID-19 pandmeic.  

Funders

  • Use the Global Policy Index to identify areas of countries’ pandemic responses where attention is needed in order to achieve a gender-equitable response and consider opportunities to fund gender-responsive interventions

Researchers and advocates

  • Use the country profiles to explore key national-level policies relating to the health impacts of COVID-19 across our six policy areas
  • Use filter functions in the Global Policy Index and download the dataset to explore trends in the gender-responsiveness of countries’ pandemic responses
  • Use the assessment of your country to identify areas of the response in need of gender-responsive action and to advocate for change along the policy areas 

GH5050 collated the publicly available health policies from 76 countries along these six policy areas. The WHO Gender Responsiveness Assessment Scale was applied to examine how these policies take gender into account. Policies were reviewed to understand which populations they target (women, men, transgender people, non-binary people, or a combination). GH5050 also reviewed policies’ commitments to equity and human rights. Finally, GH5050 assessed the level of gender parity within national COVID-19 task forces and the gender of task force heads. For more, see Methods.