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CGD in the News

April 7, 2021

Women Bear the Brunt of COVID-19 Crisis, New Analysis Finds

Contact: Holly Shulman +1-202-674-8757

Analysis Also Found Governments’ Pandemic Recovery Policies Not Focused Enough on Women

WASHINGTON—Women have faced disproportionate costs to their livelihoods and health from the COVID-19 crisis, a large-scale analysis of hundreds of studies from around the world found. 

Conducting original data analysis, as well as drawing on findings from more than 400 studies released since the pandemic began, researchers with the Center for Global Development's COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative aimed to determine the overall picture of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted women in low- and middle-income countries. 

“What was anecdotal is now increasingly backed up by rigorous data and evidence: women have been disproportionately hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic - whether it’s the operation of their businesses, their earnings, or their own safety and security,” said Megan O’Donnell, who leads the Center for Global Development’s COVID-19 Gender and Development Initiative, a research hub that aims to promote gender equality and long-term prosperity in low- and middle-income countries by informing global and national decision makers' policy responses to the current pandemic and future crises. “The evidence and data to date suggest that the pandemic and resulting global recession have exacerbated pre-existing gender inequalities - including in low- and middle-income countries.” 

In their review, the researchers found that COVID-19 has disproportionately hurt women’s economic standing, and that unlike in past crises where typically men’s employment has suffered more, early evidence on COVID-19 reflects disproportionate impacts on women’s employment, working hours, and wages relative to those of men.

Many economic sectors that women dominate have been harder hit than those that men dominate. Women-owned firms are concentrated in consumer-facing sectors where the demand shock has hit hard, and women are often overrepresented in industries such as tourism, transport, entertainment, cleaning and domestic services whose activities were limited by COVID shutdowns (ILO 2020g; UNDP 2020a).

Women have lost their jobs at greater rates than men. The employment to population ratio fell 2.6 percent for women compared to 1.8 percent for men in low-income countries. The employment loss measured in working hours for women worldwide was 5.0 percent in 2020, versus 3.9 percent for men (ILO 2021).

Women-owned businesses shuttered at greater rates than men’s. In sub-Saharan Africa, 41 percent of women-owned businesses closed versus 34 percent for men-owned; in Latin America and the Caribbean, these figures are 40 percent versus 29 percent, and in South Asia, 51 and 45 percent, respectively (Goldstein et al. 2020).

Women are disproportionately vulnerable to increased poverty from the pandemic. An estimated 47 million additional women and girls will fall into extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19, and poverty rates for women will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2030 (UN Women et al. 2020).

Care burdens continue to pile up for women. Studies in diverse settings such as Colombia, Lebanon, Nigeria, and India indicate women are shouldering up to several hours of additional care work per day. In a survey across Asia and the Pacific, 63 percent of women reported an increase in domestic work, compared to 59 percent of men (UN Women 2020).

In their review, the researchers found that women’s health was directly and indirectly harmed due to the COVID-19 crisis more than their male counterparts:

Violence against women increased. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of studies documenting the impact of the pandemic on violence against women and children point to an increase in at least one measure of violence (Peterman et al., 2020; Peterman and O’Donnell, 2020a; Peterman and O’Donnell, 2020b).

Mental health issues impacted women more than men. In a review of 98 studies across diverse geographic settings that compared mental health status and outcomes between men and women during the COVID-19 pandemic, over 80 percent indicated that women were experiencing greater adverse mental health effects—including higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and fear of COVID-19 than men (EMERGE, 2020).

Women experienced restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services. While the magnitude of this problem varied across countries, the research finds that in many countries access to contraception, antenatal care, and attended births declined more than 10% during the pandemic (Krubiner et al., 2021).

“COVID-19 wasn’t the only threat this pandemic posed to women’s health,” said Carleigh Krubiner, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who conducted the health analysis. “We must also think about the indirect health impacts of the pandemic on women and girls, including more limited access to a range of essential health services like contraception and exacerbated harms related to gender-based violence and mental health issues. It will be years before we truly know all the ways this pandemic has set women’s health back.”

The researchers also reviewed national policies announced by governments around the world to date in response to the pandemic and found that very few (less than 20 percent) of economic relief and recovery policies were designed to address women’s needs and constraints. 

“Gender gaps will not disappear with the distribution of vaccines,” said O’Donnell. “COVID-19 has exacerbated long-standing gender inequalities, and - if governments don’t act - could have far-reaching negative impacts on women’s health and economic standing for decades.”

Fortunately, when donor institutions like the World Bank and other regional development banks support governments in COVID response, CGD research finds more attention given to gender inequities. But more research is needed to understand the impact that both national policies and donor investments are having on women and girls.

The researchers recommend that in order to close gender gaps exacerbated by the pandemic, global decision-makers should prioritize:

Cash: Because the economic effects of the crisis will long outlast COVID-19’s direct health effects, governments and donors should continue to provide cash transfers to vulnerable populations, placing a priority on targeting women. 

Care: Governments and donors should strengthen labor market policies and programs to ensure they benefit women, including by prioritizing investments that reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work. 

Data: Governments and donors should monitor and evaluate the benefits of COVID-19 mitigation and recovery measures on women and girls, as well as strengthen broader data systems to ensure they reflect women’s and girls’ lived realities.

Leadership: Women must be elevated into more leadership roles and have a greater voice in policy decision-making to strengthen response and recovery strategies.

To read the four new studies from the Center for Global Development – The Impacts of Health Crises on Women & Girls: How Historical Evidence Can Inform Assessment and Recovery through a Gender Lens, Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in the COVID-19 Context, Addressing the COVID-19 Crisis's Indirect Health Impacts for Women and Girls, and The Gendered Dimensions of Social Protection in the COVID-19 Context – visit


April 6, 2021

Opinion: IMF’s spring meetings lack ambition for a world in crisis (Financial Times)

By Mark Lowcock and Masood Ahmed

Countries risk a ‘dangerous divergence’ in economic fortune unless more is done to help

At the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank this week, we can expect measures to support low- and middle-income countries’ pandemic recovery that are laudable but fall well short of what is required.

One likely outcome will be an allocation of up to $650bn in IMF special drawing rights, the fund’s reserve currency that is used to supplement members’ official reserves. An extended pause on debt service payments for the poorest countries and a commitment from wealthy nations to help finance the global distribution of Covid vaccines will probably also be agreed.

All these measures will be welcome. But they will be only marginally helpful for countries where the end of the pandemic remains far off. They certainly will not prevent IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva’s warning of a “dangerous divergence” between economies from becoming a reality.

February 25, 2021

Pooled procurement of drugs in low- and middle-income countries can lower prices and improve access (VoxEU CEPR)

From the article, which cites CGD's procurement work:

"Across low- and middle-income countries, the prices of essential medicines, such as cancer treatments, HIV antiretrovirals, and antibiotics, display substantial variations, with the locally observed prices sometimes being many times higher than the lowest international reference level for generic equivalents. Chalkidou et al. (2020) show that some purchasers in low- and middle-income countries pay up to 30 times the minimum international reference price for basic generic medicines, such as paracetamol, insulin, and omeprazole. High prices, in turn, deplete already-limited public health budgets and generate shortfalls in access, especially for the poorest and neediest members of society."

"Existing economic research has addressed the issue of affordable access to drugs in developing countries mostly from a patent protection angle. Several authors have analysed the trade-off between the potential costs of restrictive patent policies (due to the higher prices resulting from monopolistic pricing policies) and the potential benefits related to the faster diffusion of new drugs to markets enjoying stronger patent protection (Chaudhuri et al. 2006, Kyle and Qian 2014, Cockburn et al. 2016)."

January 22, 2021

COVID-19 recovery provides a unique opportunity to close the gender gap (Devex)

From the op-ed:

While it’s still too soon to know definitively what’s happening across the globe to women during the pandemic, data from 26,000 business owners and managers collected across 50 countries revealed that women were more likely than men to close their businesses as a result of the crisis. In sub-Saharan Africa, 43% of women-owned businesses closed versus 34% of those owned by men, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, these figures were 39% versus 29%.

And wage workers aren’t doing any better. Though during past economic crises men’s employment suffered while women were able to enter the workforce or increase the amount of paid work they did to supplement household income, this time early evidence suggests that women in the formal sector have been hit hardest and are now crowding into the informal sector, with those previously working informally turning to subsistence production — farming that may cover households’ food needs but doesn’t bring in income.

January 22, 2021

Europe can only fix its relationship with Africa if it exorcises its colonial ghosts (The Guardian)

From the op-ed:

Because Europe and Africa are interconnected and interdependent. They need each other to create jobs and growth on both continents, to ensure a post-pandemic economic recovery and to tackle climate change.

The EU remains the leading aid, trade and investment actor across the continent. African exports of raw materials, chemicals and petroleum products, minerals and metals as well as fishery and agricultural goods, continue to be the mainstay of many European industries.

Yet, even if Africa’s once dynamic growth rates have been slowed by the pandemic, its economic potential, youthful population and plans to build an African Continental Free Area, (AfCFTA) modelled on the EU single market, will intensify international rivalry and competition – especially between Europe and China.

EU policymakers insist that their policies are better than Beijing’s, and that while China’s investments under the belt and road initiative grab global attention, they are worsening Africa’s already high debt burden and making debt-relief measures even more urgent.

January 21, 2021

Fighting COVID-19's effects on gender equality (Axios)

From the article:

"The disproportionate effects of containment measures on female-dominant sectors, the heavier role of women in child and elder care, and an uptick in domestic violence are all behind COVID-19's female recession, according to Megan O'Donnell, CGD's deputy director for gender.

'COVID-19 is not just a short-term health crisis. The economic effects of this crisis are going to far outlast the direct health effects for women,'" O'Donnell said.

January 20, 2021

More women forced to close businesses in pandemic amid warnings they will be ‘left behind’ (Telegraph)

From the article:

"Women who are in employment also appear to be suffering more because in many countries the sectors they tend to work in are overexposed to the economic collapse caused by Covid-19, according to emerging data studied by experts at the Center for Global Development (CGD).

Megan O'Donnell, who will lead a new Covid-19 Gender and Development Initiative at the CGD focusing on low-and-middle income countries, said: 'Before Covid-19 hit, women’s labour force participation, access to finance, pay, and advancement were all already unequal to men’s, and the pandemic and global recession are predicted to exacerbate these gaps. Policymakers have a chance right now to put women at the center of recovery efforts and fix long-standing inequalities. This new initiative will explore the best ways donor institutions and governments can do that.'”

December 10, 2020

New Research: Reducing Global Travel Will Not Stop the Next Pandemic

Contact: Eva Grant Center for Global Development +1.202.416.4027

Reducing global travel by as much as 50% would only delay next pandemic by 1-2 weeks

WASHINGTON—Reducing international travel in the long-term is not an effective policy to reduce the health risks of future pandemics, new analysis released by the Center for Global Development has found.

As the world prepares for the likelihood of future pandemics after COVID-19, authors Michael Clemens and Thomas Ginn used standard epidemiological models to analyze historical data from four different pandemics in three centuries. The data covers the influenza pandemics that began in 1889, 1918, 1957, and 2009, allowing them to study how changes in exposure to pre-pandemic international travel, across countries and over time, shape the spread and severity of pandemics. The research considers the effects of broader global integration though travel and migration before a pandemic begins, not the effects of emergency travel bans during a pandemic.

While permanently reducing international travel may seem like an intuitive, proactive strategy, the researchers argue that reductions in international travel and migration in anticipation of future threats would do little to keep people safe. Specific findings include:

Even a draconian 50 percent reduction in a country’s international arrivals in the long term—including citizens and non-citizens—would only delay the arrival of the next pandemic disease by 1–2 weeks. This slight delay in pandemic arrival is not associated with any decline in the sickness and death caused as a pandemic runs its course. The case for permanent limits on international mobility to reduce the harm of future pandemics is weak.

“Large, permanent restrictions on international mobility may help slightly delay the arrival of the next pandemic. But they would come at enormous cost. And that slight delay has not meaningfully reduced the harm of pandemics in the past,” said co-author Michael Clemens, director of Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy at the Center for Global Development. “Pandemics reached most of the world within two months a century ago, when international travel was far less, just as they do now. The tragedy of sickness and death in pandemics is shaped by how countries respond to them, not the number of people who move between countries.”

“Our research doesn’t address emergency policies to fight ongoing pandemics,” added co-author Thomas Ginn, research fellow at the Center for Global Development. “Instead, it shows that neither governments nor individuals need to slow tourism, trade, and migration in anticipation of future threats. There are actions governments can take to prepare and protect populations from pandemics. Reducing global mobility in general—and forgoing the many benefits that come with it—is not one of them.”

The paper is available here, along with appendix data:

October 9, 2020

Global Consensus Is Hard to Find. Here’s Where Action Is Still Possible. (Barron's)

From the op-ed:

"Finance ministers and officials from around the world will gather soon for a virtual annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Sometimes these gatherings lead to major international announcements. This time, two weeks before the highly consequential elections in the U.S., it would be naive to expect any new initiatives, which would be a regrettable outcome given the Covid-19 pandemic’s toll on the global economy. Even so, the assembled officials should advance consensus on areas where, regardless of the political outcome in the U.S., collective action will be needed to address the worst development and humanitarian crisis in modern history. Here are four specific propositions on which greater consensus is essential. 

Move beyond debt standstills and tackle insolvency. Despite all the fanfare, the current G20-sponsored debt-service suspension initiative, even if it is extended through the middle of 2021, is pushing some repayments down the road and only for a limited set of countries. This is helpful, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental solvency problem facing at least a dozen poor countries, which will need some external debt written off. Delaying action on the inevitable is only making the problem worse. Countries like Angola and Zambia, which entered the crisis with significant debt vulnerabilities, are now visibly scrambling to restructure their loans with major creditors, suggesting that a short-term payments standstill won’t be enough. 

Restoring solvency for countries with unsustainable debt will require the participation of all creditors—official and private, bilateral and multilateral—and an agreed set of rules. The absence of an agreed and enforceable framework has made the implementation of the initiative contentious among official creditors and nonexistent for private creditors. Six months after its start, the amount of relief expected this year has been reduced to about $5 billion. Moreover, uncertainty about which countries will need debt relief is acting as an impediment for new private lending to all low-income countries.

The forthcoming meetings are the moment to instruct the IMF and World Bank, working with creditors and debtors alike, to come forward by year end with a proposal for restoring solvency for this group of low-income countries. This should include estimates of the financing that will be required from creditors and international financial institution shareholders under different scenarios for moving forward. And they should consider additional measures, such as statutory approaches, like new domestic or international law options that limit creditor recovery, immunize assets in judicial proceedings, or limit the timing of lawsuits—or new instruments, like IFI-financed credit or cash enhancements, that these institutions could deploy in helping to resolve this issue..."

August 6, 2020

Kodak investment 'not a done deal,' says US DFC chief (Devex)

From the article:

"The Center for Global Development published a blog post asking a number of questions on the Kodak deal, including if it meets DFC’s requirement of additionality, which would mean it couldn’t raise the funding elsewhere, how the company was selected, what its impact would be, and whether it would meet fiduciary standards.

'These are key questions we would ask for any development project, but they are also salient in the US context as America’s new development finance institution veers far off its mandate. The stakes are too high for mistakes,' they wrote.

On Twitter, CGS Senior Fellow Scott Morris wrote that: 'Crisis exigencies are what they are, but it’s worth noting that this is pretty much doing the opposite of what @DFCgov was set up to do.'"