Updates from the field #27: Prioritizing women and girls during COVID-19

Three school girls having fun within the school campus at Luwambaza primary school
Caption: Students at the Luwambaza primary school in Malawi.
Photo: UNICEF Malawi

Last week, the world celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child. Progress for adolescent girls has not kept pace with the realities they face today, and COVID-19 has reinforced many of these gaps. Data shows women and girls are especially vulnerable in the face of COVID-19. 

According to UN Women, of the world’s extreme poor—689.4 million, over half are women and girls—living on less than US $1.90 a day. Also, UN Women found emerging data that shows since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls, and particularly domestic violence, has intensified.  

Infographic showing how violence against women has intensified since COVID-19.

Caption: From the UN Women interactive project: How COVID-19 impacts women and girls found at

Photo: UN Women

UN teams across the globe recognize the urgency to protect and support women and girls, especially right now, and are taking every measure to do so. Today, we highlight some of their initiatives worldwide.


In Brazil, there are currently nearly 5 million confirmed cases and over 140,000 deaths due to COVID-19. The UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Niki Fabiancic, continues to work with authorities to flatten the curve and lift livelihoods.   
Near Brazil’s border with Venezuela, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is providing mobile health units for indigenous people and refugees, and together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is offering around 300 free medical consultations every week.   

IOM staff hands an indigenous woman essential supplies.

Caption: IOM staff member provides essentials to an indigenous woman.

Photo: IOM

Also, in the Amazon, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) delivered 200,000 medical, protective and cleaning items to front-line health workers serving 80,000 indigenous people in more than 700 villages. UNICEF has also provided 15,000 Venezuelan migrants with cash and food.   
For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) helped government and civil society to compile reliable data on the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health, highlighting the need for uninterrupted services for women of all ages, including their ability to plan pregnancies and receive pre-natal care during the pandemic.   
UN Women is working on a campaign to prevent violence against women, while also involving women in decision-making for the COVID-19 response. 

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) with the UN team are highlighting the importance of mental health and prevention of suicide to the wider population, including in Spanish, tailored to Venezuelan migrants. 


In Cameroon, the UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Matthias Naab, continue to support national efforts to boost livelihoods impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.   
UN Habitat, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), UN Women, UNHCR and IOM are using local data to help authorities tailor their response and recovery plans in cities targeting groups such as women, young people and persons with disabilities to prevent them from falling into poverty.   
UNICEF supported a Government survey on behavioural changes during the pandemic. It found that, while nearly all people who took part in the survey have heard of COVID-19, only 7 in 10 respondents have specific knowledge about the disease, including how to prevent it, its symptoms and risks. Also, 6 in 10 respondents fear being stigmatized if they contract the disease. The UN team, therefore, is focusing on spreading science-based messages to curb misinformation. 


Also, an update on COVID-19 in Kosovo, which is referred to within the context of Security Council Resolution 1244: the UN team there, led by Development Coordinator Ulrika Richardson, is helping to address the multiple challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Kosovo's Development Coordinator, Ulrika Richardson answers a journalists question during the hand-over process of essential items.

Caption: UN Development Coordinator, Ulrika Richardson

Photo: Kosovo* Ministry of Health

The UN team is tailoring campaigns via social media and safe outreach to 2 million people, advocating for visas for children, with UNICEF and UNFPA. Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) with the Development Coordinator Office team distributed nearly 2000 posters on COVID-19 prevention, with science-based messages in English, Albanian, Serbian, Turkish and Romani, as well as Arabic, tailored to refugees. UNHCR and its partners have a toll-free number to support hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers. 
UNDP and UN Volunteers are providing personal protection equipment and allowances for food and transportation for dozens of volunteers in COVID-19 call centres who provide information and psychological support free of charge. 

UNDP, UN Women and UNFPA assessed the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that 56 per cent of businesses were forced to close and around half of the households surveyed experienced a significant drop in their incomes. 

*All references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999). 


The UN team in Malawi, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, is supporting efforts to save lives, protect livelihoods and leave no one behind in the recovery process.   
The team has mobilized more than US $70 million in funding, including US $50 million from its own reprogrammed budget. The UN in Malawi opened a COVID-19 Treatment Centre, set up 16 mobile medical isolation units, trained more than 9,000 health workers to boost treatment capacity and reached more than 80 per cent of the population to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus.   
Through its Staff Solidarity Fund, the UN team also contributed protective equipment to frontline workers, while supporting the management of medical and protective supplies through a COVID-19 supply portal. 

The team is also supporting the design of a national socio-economic recovery plan and is providing seeds to 300,000 families ahead of the upcoming lean season, while supporting the school re-opening process by providing food for 600,000 children. 


A young Zimbabwean school girl wearing her school uniform sits at a desk as she speaks.

Photo: UN Zimbabwe/Sirak Gebrehiwot

A quick note from Zimbabwe, where the UN team there, led by Resident Coordinator Maria Ribeiro, marked the International Day of the Girl Child last week by calling for the protection of girls since they are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to boys. A statement from the UN team stressed: 

“Girls in Zimbabwe and around the world face myriad challenges, including gender-based discriminations that result in less opportunities across a range of sectors like education, training and employment, compared with boys.”  

By the of age 19, when most children are expected to be starting their university or tertiary education, half of the girls in Zimbabwe are already married. This reduces the chances of girls to pursue their aspirations and dreams. Girls and young women under the age of 24 account for one in three maternal deaths in Zimbabwe, while 30 per cent of women and girls experience sexual and gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime. 
The UN team, along with our partners, are supporting national efforts to boost education, skills training, protection of children, support for those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as food security. The UN also works to ensure that girls in rural and urban areas have access to information and services on sexual and reproductive health, with national and local authorities. 
Through the European Union-supported, Spotlight Initiative, the UN is working with the Government, civil society and communities to eliminate violence against women and girls. According to a UNFPA study, COVID-19 is disrupting efforts to end child marriage globally, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place in the next 10 years that could otherwise have been averted. 

UN entities involved in this initiative
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Human Settlements Programme
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Health Organization
Other entities involved in this initiative
Pan American Health Organization
United Nations Volunteers

Goals we are supporting through this initiative