The Fine Print of COVID-19: Girls and young women bearing the brunt of the pandemic

30 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in one of the biggest global challenges of this generation. As countries intensify efforts to flatten the curve and contain the virus, it is critical to note that the pandemic comes with some fine print – that is, the effects of COVID-19 are far worse for the most vulnerable and marginalized, especially girls and young women.

Even before the outbreak, young people were a vulnerable group with 22 per cent of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET). Two-thirds of youth with NEET status are young women.[1] Today, 77 per cent of young workers are in the informal economy and many of them are working in “non-standard forms of employment”, such as part-time and temporary jobs as well as work in the gig economy, which increase their vulnerability to the negative effects of the pandemic.[2]

The economic challenges of the outbreak pose a serious threat, particularly to young women’s work and business activity, exposing them to increased risk of exploitation or abuse, increased unpaid care responsibilities, as well as heightened informality and other decent work deficits. Girls and young women have had to endure the fact that:

  • Women represent 70 per cent of the workers in the health and social sector but earn on average 28 per cent less than men.[3] Poorly equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) in many countries, care workers are the most vulnerable to exposure to the virus itself.
  • Since the outbreak, the domestic violence against women and girls has intensified, with many countries across the world registering a nearly 30 per cent increase in reported cases of domestic violence.[4]
  • Globally, young women perform almost three times as much unpaid care and domestic work, including caring for elderly and ill family members, then young men (as measured by SDG indicator 5.4.1). The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate burdens of unpaid care and domestic work on girls and young women, who bear greater responsibility for caring for elderly and ill family members. Closures of schools and childcare facilities will further burden girls and young women by leading to additional childcare responsibilities.[5]
  • Young and female entrepreneurs, who already face severe constraints in accessing value chains and thriving their businesses, are even more affected by major disruptions in global supply and value chains.[6]

Authorities planning and implementing measures to prepare for, and respond to, the COVID-19 outbreak must recognize the gendered impacts of the pandemic. Policies and interventions must be responsive to the different needs and risks that women and girls face. During this time of movement restrictions and lockdowns, governments must ensure that the crisis is not used to economically and sexually exploit and endanger girls, young women and LGBT+ youth, who are at particular risk. Moreover, special attention must be given to addressing the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work of young women.

Upon Closer Inspection

Labour markets are on the precipice of historical changes with the potential to usher in a wave of new social norms. What the “new normal” for post-COVID-19 labour markets will look like, given the gravity of the economic losses, is still unclear.  What is clear is that expanding on the global gains in equipping millions of young women with the skills to thrive in the world of work must be part of any “new normal.” 

While labour markets idle, we have the best shot in a century to make transformative change a reality.  Building back better labour markets in a post-COVID-19 era implies tackling the structural barriers that have made them out of reach for millions of young women. When these engines of growth are reignited and surpassing their pre-coronavirus levels, it will be because the world demanded a more diverse, inclusive and gender-equal workforce than ever. This will methodically increase the resilience of young women in their journeys returning to, or entering for the first time, the world of work.

Just Beyond the Horizon

As nations mobilize unprecedented amounts of resources to respond to the pandemic, governments, businesses and ordinary citizens have the opportunity to strike back not only on the health crisis but also on economic and social injustices. Perpetuating the entrenched discriminatory practices and behaviours symptomatic of pre-crisis labour markets that put profits above people must come to an end.  Measures must be taken now to protect and support the most vulnerable, especially girls and young women, who bear the brunt of the pandemic. There is an opportunity just over the horizon, to emerge from this crisis more empathetic, humane and cognizant of the opportunities and potential for something good to emerge from this crisis.  What will emerge awaits our collective action to strive for the better.

By Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen (Plan International)

This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact

To bring youth voices to the forefront of action and policy responses, the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth (DJY) and its partners are conducting a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth rights. Participate in the survey now!


[1] ILO, Youth exclusion from jobs and training on the rise (2020)

[2] ILO, Global Employment Trends for Youth (2020)

[3] WHO, Gender equity in the health workforce: Analysis of 104 countries (2019)

[4] UN Women, COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (2020)

[5] UNESCO, COVID-19 school closures: Why girls are more at risk (2020)

[6] World Bank Group, Profiting From Parity (2019)


Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen

Chief Executive Officer

Plan International

Contributing partner

Year of publication

30 April 2020