Like so many other women, Carrine Annette Bidzogo has struggled with her mental health during the coronavirus.
“The stress of contracting the disease prevented me from visiting family. So I stayed at home, cloistered. ... The course of life changed overnight,” said Bidzogo, who lives in Cameroon. Her remarks were revealed Tuesday in a report released by CARE, a global anti-poverty organization that focuses on social justice.
The study polled more than 6,200 women and 4,000 men in 38 countries — about how the novel coronavirus has affected their lives and priorities. It is billed as the first comprehensive report to focus on women around the world and their experiences during the pandemic.
Bidzogo’s experience navigating the pandemic in central Africa resonates with women all around the world, the analysis shows.
The common threads across the globe, despite geography, race and socioeconomic status, were striking in their similarity, said Emily Janoch, CARE’s director of knowledge management and the author of the report.
“We’re seeing many of the same challenges and many of the same factors for women in high-income countries and in middle-income countries that we’re seeing in very poor places. The fact that there is so much commonality really tells us there’s something critical there about the systems and the way they are not responding,” Janoch said.
“This is the first time anybody has pulled together that kind of global analysis where we started by centering the voices of women,” Janoch said. “This is asking women specifically what they need. And the fact that they’re telling us the same thing across nearly 40 countries is really important.”
The report found that women are nearly three times as likely as men to report mental health impacts from covid-19, mostly because of concerns about their livelihood and caregiving. More than half — 55 percent — of the women said they have lost income because of the pandemic, compared with 34 percent of men.
The study’s findings were not surprising to Clare Huntington, professor at Fordham University’s School of Law, who focuses on families in poverty.
She noted the report “highlights the caregiving responsibilities that often fall on women.”
Throughout the world, women are more likely to hold jobs in the informal sector and have less access to unemployment benefits.
Women are almost twice as likely to report challenges to accessing health services than men, including family planning. As many as 73 percent of the women surveyed in Afghanistan, for example, said they could not access family-planning resources.
Another takeaway of the report, Janoch noted, was that women, no matter their situation, were stepping up to lead.
“They’re taking action. Even women who are very poor, who have very few resources, are finding ways to leverage networks and to try to influence leadership and support the poorest people in their community. In fact, that’s the answer we get most often from women. When we say, ‘What are you doing right now?,’ they say, ‘I’m trying to support people who are poorer than I am,’” Janoch said. “There’s something amazing about that.”
Bidzogo, despite her own concerns, was able to feed 114 families through a group she joined, Sayap Africa.
“We bring them rice, sardines, soap, tomatoes, so that these families no longer have to travel and [can] limit the contamination and spread of the virus,” Bidzogo said.
Janoch said that this is an example of the kind of behavior “we’re seeing all over the world,” adding, “That’s part of what’s really powerful about listening to women and helping women leaders.”