The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal

Collating and reviewing COVID-19 health sector policies to understand their consideration of gender, equity and human rights

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal offers the most comprehensive review of the recognition of and response to sex and gender in national COVID-19 public health policies globally. Launched in the context of mounting calls for governments to adopt gender-responsive approaches to the pandemic, the Policy Portal finds little evidence that sex and gender have been considered in policies that directly impact people’s health outcomes.

From the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, sex and gender have had a measurable impact on people’s health. From an individual’s risk of exposure to the virus to their ability to access testing, vaccination and health services and their likelihood of developing severe disease, sex and gender play a determining role. Data collected in the COVID-19 Sex-Disaggregated Data Tracker has demonstrated that, although there is some variation among countries, in general, men are less likely than women to be tested for COVID-19, but more likely to be hospitalised and more likely to die from the virus

The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal collates and reviews over 450 policies and policy excerpts from 76 countries across all WHO regions and World Bank income groups. Policies are collected under six key areas derived from the WHO pandemic response recommendations: vaccination, public health messaging, clinical management, protection of healthcare workers, disease surveillance, and maintenance of essential health services. All policies have been collected from official Government sources. The policies were examined using the WHO gender-responsiveness assessment scale to understand whether and how they respond to gender inequalities, as well as which populations they target (men, women, transgender people and non-binary people) and whether human rights and equity are considered.

Countries with gender-responsive COVID-19 policies for the health sector

  • 3 or more policies that acknowledge gender
  • 2 policies that acknowledge gender
  • 1 policy that acknowledges gender
  • 0 policies that acknowledge gender
  • No policies found
  • Not yet reviewed

“The pandemic has exposed gender, ethnic, socioeconomic and many other inequalities across our societies. One would have hoped that the collective response to it would have had an equity focus, but the GH5050 Health Policy Portal reveals that this has not been the case. In the midst of this pandemic, and in response to those diseases with pandemic potential which will surely threaten in future, I urge policy makers to heed the GH5050 findings and ensure that they commit to gender equality and to equality in general across their pandemic control policies.”

Helen Clark
Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator, UNDP

Considering gender in policy responses improves health outcomes for everyone

In all six policy areas reviewed, evidence from past pandemics suggests that taking gender and intersecting characteristics, such as age, disability, ethnicity, pregnancy and socio-economic status, into account when designing and delivering interventions to address COVID-19 may improve health outcomes for everyone. Yet the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal reveals a pervasive gender-blindness that spans policy areas, geographical regions and country income levels. While these findings do not speak to the effectiveness of health measures implemented by governments, they shed light on governments’ stated commitments in relation to protecting the health of their populations.
Key findings from the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Health Policy Portal
  • Among 388 policies (excluding surveillance policies, which were assessed differently), just 9% were found to address the role of gender in driving health outcomes - ranging from 6% of clinical guidelines and health worker protection guidance to 12% of public health messaging policies.
  • Less than one-third of policies (143/458) identified the population beneficiaries (men, women and/or transgender people) of the policy action. Most of the policies that identified a specific population were focused on women’s health, and specifically maternal health. A small number of policies (13) mentioned interventions targeting men, and only one policy mentioned transgender people.
  • A majority of vaccine policies (72%) were found to make a commitment to equity, including through the identification of priority vaccination groups. Apart from vaccine policies, however, only a small proportion of policies contain any equity commitments (31%) or human rights commitments (17%).
Top performing countries

Four of the 76 countries reviewed had at least three gender-responsive policies across the six policy areas:

South Sudan
“We are pleased that the COVID-19 Health Policy Portal acknowledges the gender-responsiveness of Bangladesh’s policies, and grateful for the work of GH5050 in shining a light on this important aspect of the COVID-19 response. The promotion of equity and removal of gendered barriers to information, prevention and control measures and services are vital to our success in ending the pandemic and to advancing the health of all people.”
Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, Additional Director General, Directorate General of Health Services, Bangladesh

Recognition of gender in policies across six policy areas

91% of all policies reviewed are gender-blind

WHO Gender Responsiveness Assessment Scale
Gender-blind - Ignores gender norms, roles and relations
Gender-sensitive - Considers gender norms, roles and relations; does not address gender inequality
Gender-specific - Considers gender norms, roles and relations; Targets and benefits specific women, men or transgender/nonbinary populations to meet their needs
Gender-transformative - Considers gender norms, roles and relations; Address the causes of gender inequality; Transforms harmful gender norms, roles and relations

Policies that specify priority populations by gender overwhelmingly focus on women

Roughly one-third of COVID-19 health policies make equity commitments

Using the Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Policy Portal as a tool for change

Governments, decision-makers, researchers, advocates and funders are encouraged to explore the Policy Portal’s global index, country profiles and policy area pages to compare policy approaches and promote knowledge sharing. By highlighting examples of gender-responsive policies under each policy area and collating resources, the Policy Portal provides a tool for actors across the pandemic response to push for gender-responsive COVID-19 health policies. This is of ongoing importance as countries move towards vaccine roll out and recovery. Evidence from the COVID-19 Sex-Disaggregated Data Tracker already shows gendered trends in vaccination: integrating a gender lens should be a priority.

Examples of gender-responsive COVID-19 health policies:

‘[We] will carry out targeted consultations with vulnerable groups to understand concerns/needs in terms of accessing information [… We will] consider provisions for childcare, transport, and safety for any in-person community engagement activities [for women]... [and] develop education materials for pregnant women on basic hygiene practices, infection precautions, and how and where to seek care based on their questions and concerns.’
Eswatini - gender-specific public health messaging strategy

‘Special considerations and programs should be implemented for vulnerable populations (elderly, patients with chronic diseases, pregnant and lactating women and children)'... [We will] consider and address obstacles to women’s and girls’ access to psychosocial support services, especially those subject to violence or who may be at risk of violence.'
Suriname - gender-specific clinical COVID-19 guidelines

‘Employers should develop fair and workable human resource plans for emergency situations while taking into consideration gender roles (e.g., women’s tendency to take on more caregiving responsibilities in family and home settings)… [Risk-mitigation measures for healthcare workers include] 'Provid[ing] gender sensitive supports to workers, such as transportation, lodging, and child/elder/pet support as needed.'
Canada - gender-specific guidelines for the protection of healthcare workers

'A decision was made to examine the health of Icelanders from a gender and equality perspective, to assess whether healthcare service provision takes the different needs of women and men into consideration.'
Iceland - gender-specific approach to maintaining essential services

'[We will] conduct a regularly updated, multi-sectoral gender analysis with sex, age and disability disaggregated data collection to identify inequalities, gaps, and capacities to assess the specific impacts of the crisis on the women, girls, men and boys of the affected population.’
Pakistan  - gender-specific approach to COVID-19 surveillance