Tracking Covid-19 Gender Data in Africa

Photo Courtesy of UNFPA Asia and the Pacific

Gender data provides meaningful insights into women’s and men’s well-being, girls and boys, and provides actionable information for policy to address gender gaps by serving as indicators of gender equality. In pandemics, gender data is vital in learning how the pandemic affects men and women medically and to understand gendered socio-economic impacts. From a medical perspective, gender data is critical for understanding the distributions of health risk, infection, and disease in the population and the extent to which sex and gender affect clinical outcomes. In addition, the availability of gender data boosts efforts geared towards the alleviation of the immediate health crisis and formulating policy and containment measures to mitigate the long-term impacts of the pandemic on men and women’s well being. 

From a socio-economic perspective, gender data evaluates the impacts of pandemics on men and women’s livelihoods. Previous evidence from past outbreaks indicates that the socio-economic effects of infectious-disease outbreaks affect women more than men. During the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks, women’s socio-economic security was upended and for longer than men’s. The case of Covid-19 is not any different; the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 have fallen harder on women than men.

Women bear the brunt of the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s containment measures. Among these are that lockdowns around the world are leading to a surge of domestic violence; women make up the majority (70 Percent) of health and social workers who are working in the frontline, exposing them to the virus and that globally more women than men are caregivers at home and therefore have additional labour of having to care for children at home daily with schools closed.

Given that pandemics affect men and women disproportionately, there is a need for the availability, accessibility, and use of gender data to assess and mitigate their impacts. However, globally, just a few governments collect and share gender data on infectious disease cases and the gendered socio-economic effects of disease outbreaks and responses such as in the case of Covid-19. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, only a handful of countries provide gender data on Covid-19, pointing to substantial gender data gaps. Additionally, there have been minimal efforts to disaggregate data on the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, with available statistics failing to disaggregate the data by sex. Tracking the socio-economic implications of Covid-19 on men and women, therefore, remains a big challenge. However, there are a few government-led initiatives by National Statistics offices such as The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics highlighting the socio-economic impacts of COVIDCovid-19 on households. Additional in-country efforts and complementary efforts by non-governmental organizations such as the FinMark Trust’s public Covid-19 tracking survey currently live in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia are plugging gender data gaps by capturing real-time data on the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19. This lack of data implies that policies and public health efforts might not address the gendered impact of Covid-19 hence there are higher chances of prolonged gender disparities in the post-COVID world.

Table 1. Sub-Saharan African Countries  publishing gender data on COVID 19

This table presents the number of countries in Sub-saharan Africa publishing gender data on Covid-19.  

Country Cases (%) male Cases (%) female Proportion of deaths confirmed (%) maleProportion of deaths confirmed (%)Female 
Uganda 85.2014.8020.0080.00
Liberia 65.4634.5465.3834.62
South Africa 42.8457.1652.6047.40
Central African Republic73.1726.83
Sierra Leone52,7047.30

Source: Sex, gender, and COVID-19 Live data tracker

We cannot risk being gender blind on a disease that is not gender-blind. There have been numerous calls for governments and policymakers to adopt evidence-based policies in response to the pandemic. The gender data conversation is, therefore, timely not only in this pandemic but also for broader sustainable development discourses. The Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to advocate for and continue existing momentum on the publication and use of gender data. Policy and decision-makers need to institute or strengthen systems, policies, and practices to enable the collection, access, and use of more and better quality gender data. 

Various opportunities exist that governments and other stakeholders can tap into to ensure consistent availability, accessibility, and gender data use. These include mainstreaming gender-responsive approaches in processes (policy, data collection, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation); continued advocacy on the availability and use of gender data, diversifying data sources to include data from non-mainstream sources such as Citizen Generated Data (CGD), especially for contextual and granular gender data collected by grassroots organizations; going beyond numbers/quantitative data to open up qualitative gender data as it captures nuances that the numbers necessarily don’t, providing incentives for publication of gender data; making a case for open gender data; reducing silos between organizations working on mainstream women’s rights, gender equity, and equality work and those focused on data and capacity building especially within government, to collect, publish and use accurate and complete gender data.

It is undeniable that without data to understand gender dynamics in social, economic, health, and political spheres, our ability to evaluate progress in achieving and or in prioritizing actions to address gender inequality is inadequate. Therefore, stakeholders across Africa need to rally together to ensure better availability and use of gender data as we contemplate recovery to reduce inequality in the post-Covid-19 world. Some existing efforts include the setting up of the Africa Gender Data Network supporting statisticians from across the African continent to learn the latest methodologies in gender data gathering and share best practices.


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