Why women are crucial to our COVID-19 response

An adult sits and waits for coffee to brew inside her home in Ethiopia
October 14, 2020

In over half a year since COVID‑19 began to take hold, the fault lines of our world’s disparities have been laid bare. For women across the world in particular, the pandemic’s negative impacts on health, personal and social safety, work and livelihoods are all disproportionately greater than for men.

The causes and effects are many, and are deeply intertwined. According to a recent UN report on gender equality in the wake of COVID‑19, data shows that:

  • Women are losing their livelihoods faster, in part because they are more exposed to the hardest-hit economic sectors.
  • Many women are sacrificing their health for economic security, as they are more likely to be frontline health workers and caregivers.
  • Women are less likely to be included in decision making around COVID‑19 resources, so their needs go unheard. (In countries with women at the helm, confirmed deaths from COVID‑19 are six times lower, partly due to these leaders’ faster response to the pandemic.)

These are just a few of the reasons why supporting and including women is crucial in our approach to building resilience to the effects of COVID‑19.


Mercy Corps’ COVID‑19 Resilience Fund

In March 2020, when the world awakened to the reality of COVID‑19 at our doorstep, Mercy Corps was ready. We were uniquely positioned to meet this new challenge head on, while continuing to address other life-threatening issues — hunger, health, economic recovery and conflict resolution — that never stopped for the pandemic.

Our COVID‑19 Resilience Fund was created to quickly apply our years of expertise in the areas where we could make the most significant impact. Here are three ways we’re serving women across the world in response to COVID‑19:


1. We help women entrepreneurs adapt quickly to succeed in a COVID‑19 era.

Small and medium-sized enterprises account for more than 90% of businesses, and anywhere from half to two thirds of jobs worldwide, according to the UN. During a global economic slowdown, these small businesses are acutely affected, with less developed economies and industries such as tourism, food service and retail being hit hardest. In most countries, women are overrepresented in these sectors, often with a tenuous hold on their jobs.

One of Mercy Corps’ many resources for small business development is our MicroMentor platform — connecting promising entrepreneurs with experienced business mentors. We responded to the COVID‑19 crisis by recruiting additional mentors with experience dealing with severe economic downturn and post-disaster recovery: the COVID‑19 Mentor Task Force.

Silmi is one of the many women who have benefited from mentorship through MicroMentor. An agricultural entrepreneur from Indonesia, Silmi co-founded a digital platform called Etnogotani, which helps local farmers increase food production profitability.

An adult poses for the camera while holding a bag.
Silmi co-founded Etnogotani with this vision: "To become the leading link between farmers and buyers in order to achieve national food security in 2030."

MicroMentor acts as a “business matchmaker” — collecting information from an entrepreneur’s unique profile, and matching her specific needs to a mentor’s skills. Silmi needed someone who could help her with market analysis, product development and branding. She was connected with Satria, a mentor in Jakarta who also helped Silmi learn about financial management, enabling her to hire three employees. The relationship helped her develop business skills, and also confidence. Silmi says:

"I have become bolder in making decisions for my efforts. In addition, I also feel more optimistic after being given guidance by a mentor."

With over 41,000 mentor-entrepreneur connections, MicroMentor spans the globe, including the United States. We also serve women entrepreneurs through Mercy Corps Northwest’s Women’s Business Center —the only one of its kind in Oregon, helping women adapt their businesses to a COVID‑19 economy and overcome barriers to success. We’re connecting small business owners in Oregon and Washington to over 1 million dollars in grants and loans, providing in-depth finance and leadership training, and have fostered over 2,500 businesses in the region.


2. We add new value to existing mobile technology.

A syrian refugee uses her mobile phone to access digital banking services in jordan.
Jordan. Hiam, 42, uses her mobile phone. She is a Syrian refugee. Mercy Corps helped her connect to mobile banking services to save money and pay bills.

Women and children make up over 80% of the Syrian refugee population and experience significantly higher health risks. With Signpost, our digital resource hub and mobile app for refugees, we were already providing critical resources on legal rights, documentation, medical care and more for people who are in transit or starting life in a new country. When COVID‑19 first exploded in Italy, Signpost was used to provide health and safety guidance about the virus. We continue to provide information, dispel rumors and serve displaced people in Italy, Jordan, Guatemala and Colombia with Signpost

In Ethiopia, domestic workers are primarily young women who have migrated to Addis, living on low wages and without family support. Within the first three weeks of the COVID‑19 outbreak, 90% of domestic workers had lost their employment. Women were facing homelessness and hunger, and a number were resorting to harmful coping mechanisms including transactional sex. We partnered with TaskMoby, a mobile app that matches service providers such as plumbers and domestic workers with jobs. Today, at least 1,000 domestic workers are employed. We’re helping to connect women to jobs and avoid exploitation.


3. We include women in the decisions that affect them.

Placing women at the center of our response to the very issues that affect them is crucial to creating the innovative and truly transformative solutions that help close the inequality gap.

Our teams are amplifying women’s voices in leadership, specifically around peacebuilding and conflict resolution. We’re supporting grassroots women leaders to meaningfully address violence, gender inequities and discrimination.

In Nigeria, working with global and local partners, we’re supporting women leaders to address the interreligious conflict and violent extremism in the North Central region of the country.

On this year's International Day of Peace, Mercy Corps engaged several Nigerian influencers to share recorded messages on the importance of women being involved in peacebuilding and decision-making. Here are a few of them:

”Peace has no language, peace has no barriers and peace is everybody’s business and everybody’s benefit.”
“Be part of the peacemaking process. Not only in your home, not only in your community but in the larger society for the benefit of humanity in general. As women, we are natural peace makers, but it is only when you get involved, when you participate at that level, that you will be able to contribute to the peacemaking process.”
“Women should not feel like their place is not at the forefront. Young women especially, we need to understand that our voices really matter. We are present now, going into the next generation and influencing the past generation. It is really important for us as young women to make our voices heard. To stand up to the injustices. To stand up for ourselves and for others around us.”


In places like the DRC and Colombia, we help female-headed households receive food, cash and shelter assistance. We engage women as community hygiene promoters and nutrition promoters for house-to-house COVID‑19 education.

From Haiti, to Uganda, to Lebanon and beyond, women participants in Mercy Corps programs serve as leaders, peacekeepers and health educators — using their knowledge and experience to keep communities informed, well and safe.

With the help of generous and timely donor contributions to Mercy Corps’ COVID‑19 Resilience Fund, we are activating innovative, high-impact solutions with women at the forefront. This funding enabled us to swiftly leverage our experience as a community of 6,000+ global humanitarians to address an unprecedented pandemic, putting our skills and agility to work as we mounted a global response.

The devastating effects of COVID‑19 in women’s lives cannot be ignored, and the long term ramifications will be dire if we do not address them today.

In order to weave a stronger safety net for all people, we need to mend the gaps where women are falling through.

When women have the tools for more successful livelihoods, like mentorship and access to finance, they will both contribute to, and drive, more prosperous economies. When women can access the technologies needed to reach across the globe for information, they will find it and pass it on to others. When women have the freedom to lead our communities as equals, together we will thrive.

Join us in building a more equitable world.