The social and economic impacts of COVID-19 fall harder on women than on men. Governments need to gather data and target policy to keep all citizens equally safe, sheltered and secure.

Women are affected more than men by the social and economic effects of infectious-disease outbreaks. They bear the brunt of care responsibilities as schools close and family members fall ill1,2. They are at greater risk of domestic violence3 and are disproportionately disadvantaged by reduced access to sexual- and reproductive-health services. Because women are more likely than men to have fewer hours of employed work and be on insecure or zero-hour contracts, they are more affected by job losses in times of economic instability2.

There has been a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” since the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns, said United Nations secretary-general António Guterres in early April. Malaysia, for example, reported 57% more calls to domestic-abuse helplines between 18 March and 26 March. Moreover, sexual- and reproductive-health clinics are closing worldwide. Some US states have restricted access to abortions4.

It is all too familiar. During outbreaks of Ebola and Zika viruses in the past few years, women’s socio-economic security was upended2, and for longer than men’s1. During the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014–16, for example, quarantines closed markets for food and other items. This destroyed the livelihoods of traders in Sierra Leone and Liberia, 85% of whom were women5. Men lost jobs, too, but 63% had returned to work 13 months after the first case was detected. For women, the proportion was 17%2.

At the same time, too little is known about the differential impacts of outbreaks on men and women. And that can leave political and policy responses flying blind. Only a minority of governments collect and share basic, disaggregated sex and gender data on cases of infectious disease and the socio-economic impacts of the response to outbreaks. Analysis remains high level, often conducted after the fact and with incomplete information ( This time, gaps must be plugged.

Please click here to read the full “Women are most affected by pandemics — lessons from past outbreaks” article published at Nature, with contributions from Griffith Asia Institute, Researchers, Professor Sara Davies and Dr Huiyun Feng.