United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news briefing...

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news briefing at UN headquarters in Manhattan on Feb. 4. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Angela Weiss

The United Nations released a policy brief Thursday claiming the novel coronavirus is disproportionately cruel on women and girls worldwide.

“The COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone, everywhere,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, releasing the 16-page policy brief by appearing in a video. “But it affects different groups of people differently, deepening existing inequalities. Early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men. But the pandemic is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls.”

The paper, "The Impact of COVID-19 on Women," released on behalf of UN Women, said, “across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.”

It said women have been harmed more than their male counterparts in these areas of their lives.

They are hurt more economically because women tend to earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. One study cited in the paper found that women perform three times as much unpaid work at home in child care and domestic duties than men do.

In terms of health, women are “less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines, maternal and reproductive health care, or insurance coverage,” the brief said.

The brief reiterated concerns that Guterres expressed earlier this week that said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a sharp increase in domestic violence, most of it directed at girls and women.

Finally, the paper said the breakdown of humanitarian efforts in hot spots worldwide has left women more vulnerable.

“Disruptions to critical health, humanitarian and development programs can have life and death consequences where health systems may already be overwhelmed or largely nonexistent,” the brief said.

Guterres called on governments, despite the struggle to combat the pandemic, to focus on women’s unique predicament.

“I urge governments to put women and girls at the center of their efforts to recover from COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “That starts with women as leaders, with equal representation and decision-making power. Measures to protect and stimulate the economy, from cash transfers to credits and loans, must be targeted at women.”

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