The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women in Politics



The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women in Politics

iKNOW Politics


“COVID-19 is a crisis with a woman’s face… The damage is incalculable and will resound down the decades, into future generations. Now is the time to change course. Women’s equal participation is the game-changer we need.”  Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, opening remarks at CSW 65

The gender gap in politics remains the largest gender gap across sectors. In 2022, women are still marginalized and unfairly represented at all levels of government globally, making up 36% of local deliberative bodies and 26.1% of national parliaments. Only 8.3% of Heads of Government and 7.2% of Heads of State are women.[1] 

Although increased women’s participation in decision-making leads to more inclusive policies and service delivery, achieving parity remains a challenge as persisting barriers hinder women’s equal access and participation in public life, including the lack of financial resources and access to networks, discriminatory laws and institutions, and gender-based violence. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that gender parity in politics will not be attained before the year 2166. 

Disasters and crises often exacerbate existing inequalities, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. While an estimated 80 countries and territories postponed national and local elections, at least 158 held elections despite COVID-19 related concerns and restrictions.[2]  In 2020 and 2021, it is estimated that voter turnout declined in 66% of countries. Similarly, civic and democratic spaces have shrunk: 155 countries introduced limitations on the freedom of assembly, which in many cases were supplemented by additional restrictions on civil and political rights; and 60 countries targeted freedom of expression. 

Many national parliaments reconfigured or reduced their activities by introducing remote and hybrid plenary sessions, committee meetings, voting, government oversight, and public engagement. While remote arrangements can break down some of the practical barriers to in-person participation for women with domestic care responsibilities and women with disabilities for instance, virtual participation can disadvantage women as it could increase their exposure to domestic violence and reinforce domestic gendered roles and expectations.

Additionally, parliaments with virtual participation may reinforce political power imbalances, favoring those physically present in meetings – more likely to be men – and reducing the visibility and impact of remote participants – more likely to be women. Similarly, restrictions on in-person political campaigning activities can widen the gap between elite and nonelite women candidates, favoring those with existing networks, resources, and name recognition.

Virtual participation and internet use are also associated with increased exposure to online abuse and violence against women in politics, which can discourage women from engaging in public debates and voicing their political opinions and aspirations publicly. Reports in 2020 show that women in politics were targeted by intense online abuse and harassment during their mandate as well as during electoral campaigns and elections. 

Although there are many women leaders receiving global praise for their crisis-management performance in the past two years, women in most contexts continue to be largely left out. Women elected officials, women candidates, and women voters are particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its backsliding effects that further exacerbate inequalities and reinforce barriers. 


This e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness and collect experiences, knowledge, and good practices on women’s political participation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as explore how to best mitigate the crisis’ effects on women voters, women candidates, and women elected officials to ensure women’s full and equal political participation at all levels of public decision-making processes. 

Electoral management bodies, women and men in politics, political party leaders and members, civil society and women’s rights activists, practitioners, and researchers are invited to join this e-Discussion from 21 March to 11 April 2022 by answering the below questions. The submissions will contribute to the elaboration of a report that will augment the knowledge base available on the topic.     


  1. How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect the turnout of women voters in local and national elections in your country/region? What are the best measures to ensure greater women voters’ turnout in the future?
  2. How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect women’s ability to run for office and get elected at the local and national levels in your country/region? What can electoral management bodies, political parties, lawmakers, and governments do to make sure women have equal access to elected positions?  
  3. What is the gender impact of virtual parliamentary work and participation? Have remote parliamentary arrangements affected your parliament’s gender-sensitivity and diversity?
  4. Has violence against women in politics, including online harassment and abuse, increased in the last two years in your country/region? If so, please provide details and concrete suggestions to make politics a safe space for women.

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[1] Average as of 1 March 2022 based on UN Women calculations.

[2] Data valid as of 1 February 2022.

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Governments have not always paid attention to how economic shocks affect women and men differently and the need to act accordingly. During the 2008 recession, few questioned whether the stimulus measures would affect the two genders differently.
This view is no longer viable in the face of the COVID-19 crisis: as policymakers face immense challenges in rebuilding economies, they will need to put women at the heart of their strategies.
In many countries, lockdown measures have hit women particularly hard. In Latin America, for example, the risks of losing their jobs in the first months of the pandemic were 50% higher for women than for men.
Women's employment tends to be heavily concentrated in sectors vulnerable to the pandemic, such as retail, restaurants and hospitality. This job is also often informal, whether in street vending or home sewing, and does not benefit from protections such as sick leave or unemployment insurance. As a result, when these jobs disappeared, women had no way to cushion the blow.
While women have been hard hit by the crisis, they can also play a significant role in economic recovery, especially in low- and middle-income countries. According to work by the World Bank, reducing inequalities could, for example, enable Niger to increase its GDP per capita by 25%.
What can governments do? At least three major areas deserve their attention.
For starters, countries can accelerate the digitization of their population ID systems, payment platforms, and other essential services, in partnership with the private sector. Women on the margins of economic activity are often invisible to the state. They generally do not have an identity card or a mobile phone, and do not appear in social registers.
While more than 200 countries have put in place social protection measures in the face of COVID-19, many have struggled to identify informal workers to channel aid to them, meaning that a large many women still do not benefit from it.
State-of-the-art digital systems could identify women in need to deliver cash transfers quickly and safely. These grants paid directly to women in countries like Indonesia, Nigeria and Zambia have already enabled millions of them to access funds more securely and have greater control over these resources.
India's experience underscores the value of getting it right: because it already had gender-disaggregated data and digital infrastructure, the government last year was able to quickly transfer funding to helped more than 200 million women, who also had a bank account in their name. Governments can promote a fair distribution of economic opportunities by expanding internet access, improving mobile connectivity and building digital skills.
Second axis: the removal of obstacles to the full economic inclusion of women, as entrepreneurs or as employees. In countries that applied the strictest containment measures, the risk of going out of business was 10 percentage points higher for female businesses. This is not surprising: most women-owned businesses tend to be smaller, whether sole proprietorships or micro-enterprises with less than five employees.
Reducing gender inequalities in entrepreneurship would help reduce poverty, create jobs and stimulate growth and innovation. Governments should therefore target lines of credit and other forms of financing for women's businesses, boost the creation of e-commerce platforms that allow women entrepreneurs to access markets and support business incubators. companies to overcome their prejudices about investing in projects led by women.
Employees also need support in different forms. In some countries, this means making public transport safer so that they no longer hesitate to use it to get to work for fear of harassment. Elsewhere, laws and regulations need to be overhauled to prevent discrimination against women in the labor market. And all countries would benefit from adopting appropriate family leave policies and organizing, with the support of public and private actors, quality care for children.
Finally, governments must commit to providing girls with a meaningful education, at least until the end of secondary school. The world was already experiencing a learning crisis before the pandemic: in low- and middle-income countries, more than half (a) of ten-year-olds in school were unable to read and understand simple text.
The pandemic has only made the situation worse. Globally, more than 800 million students are still out of school and many poor students, especially if they live in rural areas, do not have access to distance learning. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 45% of children (a) have lost all school ties during school closures.
However, access to distance learning is even more complicated for girls: if the family has only one mobile phone, it is more likely to be used by brothers than by their sisters, who moreover have often less time to devote to their studies because of the many domestic tasks that fall to them.
In addition to opening up access to employment, education is the key to enabling women to have power and influence in their own lives.
As students return to school, governments must ensure that both girls and boys are back in the learning process. This will require investing in hybrid learning modalities, combining remote and face-to-face learning, while emphasizing fundamental and social-emotional skills that will help children catch up.
Admittedly, most of these measures will require substantial investments even though the increase in indebtedness is very worrying. But the best way to encourage debt repayment is to allow economies to grow faster and prevent a growing number of households from falling into poverty.
With the right policies in place, each country will be able to rebuild in a stronger and more inclusive way. Facing the worst challenge of our generation, governments must understand that women are at the heart of building a more resilient post-COVID world.
The Tunisian experience in management of the crisis covid-19 had succeed essentially with women hard work and presence at the different levels of decision. As first a national coordinator of the Presidence of the Government program to face the pandemic & as a specialist on crisis management on my country I had the opportunity to assist a quiz with an interview guide with almost all the Public Structure of the Government to evaluate their programs & decision face to the pandemic with gender approach. Either I had managed the humanitarians help & relief for vulnerable persons specially women and persons with disability since the beginning of the pandemic, to knew further for their situation and the problems that they suffer.
The situation, here on Tunisia, was a special one with the unstable political situation:
• The 25.07.2021 our parliamentary is “frozen” by our President for the republic due to the irregular work & the high level of corruption there, with the Islamic representatives of the parliament and the excess of powers of the most of them essentially the Presidency of the parliament.
• After this date many of departments of the government and constitutional institutions are blocked their activities by the President of the Government.
• 31.03.2022 the dissolution of the parliament & announcement of legislatives elections & national referendum on the end of this year 2022. We will vote for persons not for lists.
• We had opened an e-discussion with the citizen for 6 months to know about their political, economical, social orientations for Tunisia: the political regime wished, the changes needed… But few peoples had participate and we are sure that fewer women had participated.
• We will have regional election in few months, we will governate with regional commission( the number differ with the active population of each district.)
• On 2023 we will have the local elections
• On 2024 we will have Presidential elections.
As shown we are on period of structural changes, political changes essentially, wich will have great impacts on women situation, participation…
On 11.10.2021, for the first time on Tunisia & Arab countries the President of the Republic had nominated a woman Mme NAJLA BOUDEN as a President of the Government.
Many women had succeed to a high levels post of decision, women decision maker. For example I was a member of the National Commission of Solider & Social Economy to elaborate the Plan of development 2023/2025 as a private expert on both SSE & Gender.
We have a lot to say about women position & decision maker here on Tunisia, if you want I will give you further statistics & details.
The future here will be done with women, as all the lasts times, we work hard here to protect our rights & to ensure that they will be applicated correctly.

Before the dissolution of the parliament the main work was essentially virtual. The presence of women parliamentary was better. They had done a hard work and participate at all the sessions in spite of all the violence’s against them. With covid women had returned to their care roles with all the family at house: children, parents, husband, person with disabilities… and she must take care about them ( school & universities closed all the times, virtual work, local of divertissement either closed… so all must be at home for several days) this has increased the level of violence’s against women 7 times on the first six months & then 10 times later. Women ad suffered a lot , most of them had loosed their works because they earn less than men ( on the private sector, on the public one we have the equity & equality). I n this situation women leave their work , which it isn’t a regular or legal one, to stay at home and take care of all. Some others women had to work from their house on virtual but they affronts several difficulties to found the time & concentration needed to well done their work.
The government had taken many measures to help them & their families. I was on the front line to do this, as a volunteer’s woman leader. I had been there with my volunteers staffs (almost 3000 persones where women are more than ¾ ). We had collect natural helps , sensitization, companies of vaccination, giving them gel protector & mud flaps…
We stay all the time near them, proximity to knew their argents needs, to help them to succeed the hard impacts of the pandemics, to inform them about their rights, the legal measures taken in this period, how they can proclaim their rights on justice… W e had solved many problems and saved many life’s of women& children.
The government had done many platforms to hear them and to give helps with several financial measures on their profits also as a relief or as to create projects.
Many legal decisions either are taken for the women, as you know I hope , here on Tunisia we have the vertical & horizontal participation lists on both local & legislatives elections. Women either are recommended to participate to the presidential elections ( 26 candidates, only 2 women for the first time)
Finally here on Tunisia we have many things to say I hope I will have the opportunity to enumerate them to know that we are so advanced on the women rights but we have either a lot of things to done.
I hope that I had advanced a short review of our situation.
Great thinks at all of you on the different countries.
Expert & consultant on Gender & SSE, Management of crisis.

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This contribution is posted on behalf of Mrs. Sereyleak Sonket, Education and Gender Coordinator, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) 

1. How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect the turnout of women voters in local and national elections in your country/region? What are the best measures to ensure greater women voters’ turnout in the future? 

In 2020 and 2021, Cambodia has no elections. Nowadays, in 2022, Cambodia is organizing the fifth mandate Commune Council Elections (local elections). Our expected, women voters’ turnout to vote will be a huge percent since the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Cambodia is better. Most people got Covid-19 vaccination. The government reopens all fields including schools (public and private), private sector, institutions and state/ministries, and Khmer New Year will be celebrated as well. However, we are looking forward to seeing voters’ turnout (especially women voters) on election day (Sunday, 05 June 2022). 

2. How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect women’s ability to run for office and get elected at the local and national levels in your country/region? What can political parties, lawmakers, and governments do to make sure women have equal access to elected positions? 

Through the three workshops in 2021 via online and offline (two at the provinces and one at the national level), co-organized by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia-COMFREL and CSO’s Women Working Group and meetings with key stakeholders, the political parties showed a strong commitment to formulating gender equality policy within the party, as well as amending the election laws to bring about real equality in Cambodia. Furthermore, 17 political parties who were participated and involved in the workshops and recently COMFREL’s monitoring work committed to promoting women’s roles in their parties and placing many women as candidates for the upcoming Commune Council Elections (CCE) 2022 and National Assembly Elections (NAE) 2023. For instance, the ruling party - Cambodian People’s Party-CPP would place more women candidates for CCE 2022 while Ministry of Women’s Affairs-MoWA responded the same that they have worked to promote the number of women in politics and decision-making level by collaboration with civil society. Moreover, the Candlelight Party-CP committed to encourage more women candidates for the CC and NA elections 2022 and 2023 and it plans to establish women wing at the national and will formulate women policy and women in leadership in the next. 

With strong efforts, a National Policy on Gender Equality was formulated in 2019 by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) through took a led by the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA) with inputs from NGOs and the private sector for increasing gender equality in all fields. Until now this policy was not adopted by the Office of the Council of Ministers (OCM) due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a result, women candidates for the fifth mandate Commune Council Elections 2022 is at 31.5 percent (slightly increased), according to the primarily result of political party registration and list of candidates released by the National Election Committee-NEC on 7 March 2022 from 17 political parties for CCE 2022. It should be noted that most of the parties placed more women candidate from 38% to 54.4%. For instance, FUNCINPEC party placed 38% women candidates, Khmer National United Party-KNUP has 44.3% women candidates, the Cambodia National Love Party-CNLP has 40.6% women candidates, Cambodian Nationality Party-CNP at 54.4% women candidates, and Khmer Will Party-KWP has 49% women candidates while the highest potential parties; CPP at 26% and Candlelight Party-CP at 22.6% women candidates. This number will be changed when the complaint solution was finished.  

3. What is the gender impact of virtual parliamentary work and participation? Have remote parliamentary arrangements affected your parliament’s gender-sensitivity and diversity? 

Nothing changed of number of women members of parliament (Women MPs), make up only 20% (26) until now. 

The total percent of elected women and men as parliamentarian is very uneven between the sexes. We have 20 percent women elected and 80 percent men elected. This figure shows the significant disproportion between the number of elected men and women which is a reflection of the lack of promoting women’s participation in politics and decision-making level and perpetuates a large gender gap. 

4. Has violence against women in politics, including online harassment and abuse, increased in the last two years in your country/region? If so, please provide details and concrete suggestions to make politics a safe space for women. 

According to the result of COMFREL’s survey in cooperated with the Consultants in 2020 on “Women Political Activist’s Participation in Politics” revealed that 71% of the participants experienced violence against women in politics (VAWIP). The study showed that women in politics both in the ruling party, opposition party, and other parties face the violence of multiple types, dimensions and at all levels. Both female commune councilors and female parliamentarians experienced violence against them but in different forms and degrees. The violence against female commune councilors and female parliamentarians from the opposition party (i.e., former CNRP) is more obvious, dreadful, and frequent than women in the ruling party or other small parties. In the meantime, the female commune councilors experienced more abusive and direct violence against them than the female parliamentarians. 

The most common form of VAWIP is threat and psychological violence have been mentioned during the survey by women political activists, members of the commune councillors, and elected representatives of National Assembly. In these forms 82 percent of the participants experienced threat and 71 percent psychological violence. Another serious form of VAWIP is physical abuse and sexual harassment. Women experienced physical abuse at 35 percent and 8 percent experienced sexual harassment. It’s not acceptable with these immorality acts and it contradicted with international convention – CEDAW and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments Cambodia has taken on to protect women from discrimination and violence as well as empower women and girls. Consequently, all forms of abuse and violence against women in politics are the main issues and concerns that prohibit active participation and potential of women in politics. 

Click here to read the full contribution. 

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Contribution posted on behalf of Akua Sena Dansua, former Ambassador of Ghana to Germany, Former Minister for Tourism, Former Minister for Youth and Sports, Former Minister for Gender and Children’s Affairs, Former Member of Parliament (MP), Ghana. 

1. During the though and biting covid restrictions, between February 2020 and January 2022, only Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held in Ghana. The electoral process involved the compilation of a new Voters Registration, (against advice from majority of the citizens because of the high rates of Covid infections at the time,) through electioneering or campaigning to casting of ballots or voting on December 7, 2020. During this period, there was a ban on mass gatherings including large outdoor campaigns in markets, lorry parks, churches, football parks or stadia and at cultural festivals among others many of which involved women supporters and voters. This called for different and innovative campaign strategies including on-line zoom interactions with more educated and sophisticated groups such as students and Lecturers, trade unions and other such groupings. Lots of on-line messaging was done targeted at specific groups who had access to sophisticated communication infrastructure and gadgets involving huge data costs. Infrastructure for such meetings including stable communication networks, smart and expensive phones, laptops and other smart technological infrastructure, technical staff and convenient locations. were very expensive and out of the reach of most women candidates and voters. To address these challenges in future pandemics or exigencies, government, parliaments, political parties, CSOs , the media, Private Sector Organisations and donor agencies must work together to craft meaningful solutions that will favour women in the electoral process otherwise one half of the citizenry ( according to 2021 Census report) will be excluded from participating in political decision-making and also in the governance of Ghana which will impact negatively on democracy generally.

2. There were 3 female presidential contestants, one Vice Presidential candidate( the first time in Ghana’s history) and 126 Parliamentary candidates. The limited infrastructural and financial issues enumerated above largely restricted access and participation of women voters from the voter registration stage to the polling day. In future such situations , women candidates should be provided with the infrastructure and support services primarily by governments, CSOs, Donors and the private sector and the media among others to ensure that women candidates and voters are provided a fair platform to participate in the electoral process guaranteed by national constitutions and other legal instruments. The UN, regional and other global institutions such as iKnowPolitics and IDEA should ensure that protocols, legislation and policies are adopted and enforced in addition to accountability mechanisms put in place to ensure enforcement.

3. For most of the reasons stated above, virtual parliamentary work and participation was affected in the sense that parliament has not been decentralized regionally or into the districts and constituencies to enable Members of Parliament, including women legislators who were held up in their constituents due to Covid 19 hospitalization or other reasons, could participate in Parliamentary proceedings outside Accra, the national capital. This situation definitely impacted gender sensitivity in policies and laws that were passed in Parliament in Accra during the period, by members, majority of who were men. Governance should be decentralized beyond the district assembly levels to ensure that people at the grassroots level including legislators can participate effectively in decision-making without having to travel to Accra, the national capital to do so.

4. Research from various parts of world, prior to and during the covid restrictions point to increase violence against women in all spheres of life including on-line harassment and abuse. I am not aware of any official researches done in Ghana to confirm this but there have been and also increasing daily media reports of abuse, mocking and insults against women generally including most female candidates in the 2020 Ghanaian elections. These challenges could be redressed in several ways including identifying, reporting, naming and shaming perpetrators, taking legal action perpetrators, media and technological support as well as training and orienting female political candidates to accept the reality of on- line and physical harassment, abuse and gender violence generally. Global and regional institutions like the UN and iKNOW Politics and IDEA among others should among others empower and use experienced female politicians, ( former and current) to coach, groom and train young and up-coming female politicians on expectations during their political life including gender violence.

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Contribution posted on behalf of Hannah Johnson, Senior Gender Adviser at INTER PARES, and Sonia Palmieri, Policy Fellow at the Australian National University.

We are delighted to submit the following as a collaborative contribution to the iKNOW Politics e-Discussion on the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Women in Politics. We restrict our comments to the third set of questions relating to the gender-sensitivity of remote parliamentary working arrangements. Specifically, the e-Discussion prompts reflection on two questions:

What is the gender impact of virtual parliamentary work and participation? Have remote parliamentary arrangements affected your parliament’s gender-sensitivity and diversity?


The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated, like nothing before, parliaments’ implementation of remote working arrangements. These included the use of digital innovations such as voting applications and cloud storage of information management systems, which had previously been seen primarily through a ‘risk’ lens. That is, virtual participation and voting had been seen as a working modality open to compromise, or subject to claims of illegality and unconstitutionality. For the vast majority of parliaments, remote working arrangements were far from well established, if not rejected outright. This is despite arguments that had been made for years on the value of flexible working arrangements to attract a more diverse parliamentary workforce (among both parliamentarians, their (political) staff and parliamentary staff), particularly those with caring responsibilities. 

Pandemic-motivated remote working arrangements

When, in March 2020, the global community was required to work from home where possible, parliaments could hardly fail to follow suit. Research by Hannah Johnson details the varied forms of remote participation across parliaments.

Click here to read the full contribution.