As part of the Ministry's role as the Government's principal advisor on achieving better outcomes for women and girls, the Ministry has been looking at how COVID-19 is affecting women in particular.
Information on the COVID-19 Community Fund can be found here.
- The impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls.
- Some groups of women will experience greater impacts than others. Women who fall into multiple groups experiencing existing inequalities may feel the combined effects of factors such as race, age, sexuality, and disability with gender.
- Wāhine Māori and Pacific women are already impacted by existing inequalities while being more likely to have additional financial and caring responsibilities for extended family members.
- Women are often disproportionately affected by downturns in the labour market and that’s likely to be the case again with COVID-19’s economic impacts. New Zealand’s labour force is highly segregated by industry and gender, with women more likely to work in lower-paid jobs and perform unpaid and voluntary roles.
- Existing inequalities such as the gender pay gap and occupational segregation, as well as issues in non-standard work and unpaid care, mean that women are more susceptible to economic hardship and less resilient against COVID-19’s economic impacts.
- Women undertake more unpaid labour than men, including care for children and the elderly. This is likely to intensify while New Zealand is on level 4.
- The risk of gender-based violence, such as family and sexual violence which disproportionately affects women, rises during national emergencies and disasters. Home isolation means women and children are more exposed to their abusers, and are unable to escape to relatively safer spaces like school and work.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by emergencies and disasters, such as pandemics. This includes greater loss of income, increased family violence, and increased caring responsibilities. Existing inequalities for women and girls and discrimination of other marginalised group is often made worse.
International efforts to address COVID-19
Countries have taken a variety of measures to contain the spread of the virus, with different levels of effectiveness. This includes social distancing, full or partial lockdowns, testing, contact tracing, case- and vulnerable-populations isolation, focusing on improved personal and environmental hygiene.
Efforts to address COVID-19 has reduced global economic activity. Financial markets continue to be volatile and an increased number of businesses have or will close. Disruption in international and domestic supply chains is affecting manufacturing and production. This has led globally to extensive job losses and redundancies and greater reliance on government support. In response, governments have provided both monetary and fiscal support. These responses adopt a gender-neutral approach to addressing COVID-19.
What is the impact of COVID-19 on women in Aotearoa New Zealand?
COVID-19, like other emergencies or disasters, exacerbates existing inequalities. Evidence from international pandemics and the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 found that women were more likely to be negatively affected by social, economic, and health issues: job losses, loss of income, increased unpaid caring roles, and increased family violence.
Some groups of women experience greater impacts than others. Women who fall into multiple groups experiencing existing inequalities may feel the combined effects of factors such as race, age, sexuality, and disability with gender.
Though data indicates Māori are underrepresented in COVID-19 cases (~5%), in both the short and long term wāhine Māori’s high rates of employment in industries vulnerable to the ongoing economic downturn (e.g. tourism and sales) may further amplify existing unemployment inequalities, which will put more strain on whanau. Māori have experienced a greater impact from past recessions in New Zealand. As wāhine Māori are at the centre of whānau, they will experience greater responsibilities for childcare and looking after the sick and elderly, but many experience limited access to healthcare and support services. For more on resoruces for Māori, see here.
The top five dominant jobs for Pacific women are personal care assistant, sales representative, sales assistant, commercial cleaners, and early childhood teacher. There will be a disproportionate impact for Pacific women due to the level 4 restrictions and it is important data collected from central agencies on the Government’s financial package is able to identify ethnicity of those receiving financial support.
Wāhine Māori and Pacific women may be at greater risk of death as a result of COVID-19 than other ethnic groups, due to a variety of factors. These include inequitable access to healthcare and higher likelihood of an underlying health condition, which put Māori and Pacific people (men and women) aged 60 years and over in the same risk profile as Pākehā at 70 years of age.
Women over 65
Older women are more likely to live alone and can have an increased risk of social isolation during the level 4 restrictions. This may be compounded due to digital exclusion and the inability to provide or receive voluntary services. Although people of all ages can be infected by COVID-19, older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill. The rapid growth in COVID-19 has overrun health systems in many countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated the fatality rate at around two percent (January, 2020). This compares with the fatality rate for SARS at 10 percent, and MERS at 34 percent. Emerging evidence suggests that more men than women are dying of COVID-19.
Disabled people may face disproportionate impacts of level 4 restrictions due to the reduction or limited access to health services and disruptions to the support services they rely on. People with disability may also be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 because of existing health conditions, particularly those related to respiratory function, immune system function, heart disease or diabetes, which means they will be at greater risk of developing more severe cases of COVID-19 if they become infected. The may also experience difficulty in social distancing because of additional support needs or because they are institutionalised.
Level 4 restrictions may see younger rainbow/LBGTQI+ communities forced to stay in environments that are unaccepting or unsafe. Rainbow/LGBTQI+ communities may also be overrepresented in homelessness.
Women in migrant households
While New Zealand’s health information is multi-lingual, women in migrant households may still struggle to access information – in some European countries, migrant communities have suffered disproportionate numbers of death for this reason. Weaker social connections may also mean family violence goes unreported.
The impact on paid work
Women are often disproportionately affected by downturns in the labour market and that’s likely to be the case again with COVID-19’s economic impacts. The Household Labour Force Survey, for example, shows that women – especially non-Pākehā women – have been more severely affected by past crises and labour market shocks than men.
Existing inequalities such as the gender pay gap and occupational segregation, as well as issues in non-standard work and unpaid care, mean that women are more susceptible to economic hardship and less resilient against COVID-19’s economic impacts.
New Zealand’s labour force is highly segregated by industry and gender, with women more likely to work in lower-paid jobs and part-time work (71.3 percent of part-time workers in New Zealand are women). Women make up the majority of our essential support workers – in the health sector, supermarkets, and caring roles, making them at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. Women comprise the majority (57.6 percent) of the Retail Trade and Accommodation industry. This industry receives the lowest median earnings of any sector and has been one of the hardest-hit. Particular groups of women will feel these impacts even harder. Wāhine Māori and Pacific women, for example, are already impacted by existing inequalities, while being more likely to have additional financial and caring responsibilities for extended family members.
The impact on unpaid work
Before COVID-19, women were doing significantly more unpaid work as men. This is likely to intensify while New Zealand is on level 4. Women are more likely to provide support either informally within their whānau and friends or more formally in volunteer roles. Women undertake more unpaid labour than men, including care for children and the elderly. Childcare responsibilities will increase due to school and ECE closures, additional domestic duties will be required, and there are likely to be more caring responsibilities associated with the increased number of sick people. Women who work from home may still be expected to juggle work expectations with increased unpaid caring roles, or reduce their paid workload to account for the additional unpaid work. Structural inequalities such as the gender pay gap and occupational segregation mean it is likely to be more financially viable for women to sacrifice their incomes in order to absorb the necessary care responsibilities required by family in the coming weeks.
There is distinct gender segregation in the types of volunteering activities women and men do, with women more likely to volunteer in health, social services, and education roles and men more likely to volunteer for sports, business or professional associations, or unions. The types of unpaid work outside the home that women do is likely to be important during a health response.
The impact on gender-based violence
Evidence shows that the risk of gender-based violence, such as family and sexual violence disproportionately effects women, and rises during national emergencies and disasters. This will likely be the case with the COVID-19 pandemic. When households face social, health and economic pressures, rates of gender-based violence typically increase. These factors also mean there may be increased instances of elder abuse. Home isolation means women and children are more exposed to their abusers, and are unable to escape to relatively safer spaces like school and work. Although it is too early to measurable the impact COVID-19 has had on gender-based violence in New Zealand, there are reports by non-government organisations of an increase in demand for their services and in police call outs. Increased government funding to support services (e.g. Women’s Refuge) may help manage the outcomes of this increased risk but not address the causes.
 Of 87,400 one-person households aged 55 or older, 71.9 percent are women living alone. Of 55,400 one-person households aged 75 or older, 73.1 percent are women living alone.
 Wendam et al COVID19 gendered impact
 Wāhine Māori and Pacific women were disproportionately affected by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). In the ten years following the GFC, the unemployment rate amongst wāhine Māori and Pacific women has been between two and three times larger than that of European women, and has been slower to recover over time.
 2018 Census data shows us that more women perform unpaid work than men. Of Census respondents who had looked after children in their household in the previous four weeks, 57.5 percent were women. Of Census respondents who had looked after ill or disabled people in the household, 60.8 percent were women.
 New Zealand General Social Survey, women volunteered more hours than men across a majority of activities, including Health Services (e.g. hospitals, nursing homes, cancer foundations) (68% of hours) and Social Services (e.g. Civil defence, emergency support, youth groups) (61% of hours)