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Impact of Covid-19 on women in Latin America and the Caribbean

In June 2021, WUCWO created, on an experimental basis, the WWO, with the encouragement of the Holy See’s Dicasteries for the Laity, Family and Life and for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In order to proceed with the scientific rigour that would enhance its methodology and results, it sought links with academic centres that shared the human and Christian values that characterise its theoretical framework.

In alliance with CELAM’s Knowledge Management Centre and its Pastoral Socio-Anthropological Observatory, the WWO carried out the work: Impact of Covid-19 on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, whose main, but not exclusive, value is qualitative. Carried out between June and December 2021, it aims to be the first stage of a journey to be made together with the women of the continent.

This presentation consists of three parts. In the State of the Art, data published by international agencies (UN, ECLAC, etc.) and by complementary sources are collected to show the state of the topic from the quantitative perspective of these agencies. The Experts Report offers the result of the dialogue established with 25 female experts from 14 countries in the region, with different profiles, languages and roles. They are “experts” because of their experience of concrete insertion in the community they lead and/or in which they serve. The Survey Report reflects the representations of a non-statistical sample of women from 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries, with testimonies collected through open-ended questions about their experiences during the pandemic.

Each part concludes with a theological-pastoral contribution.


The 1st Ecclesial Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean (November 2021), a historic event in which more than 70,000 believers participated, included some of the results of this research in its working documents. Throughout this report there are notable coincidences with the Narrative Synthesis of the listening process that preceded the Assembly, even though this research includes women who do not consider themselves to be Catholics.

This is the way in which the holistic and principal effect of the pandemic caused by Covid-19 on the situation of women in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) could be called, since the studies collected, the experts consulted and the surveys, report the “deepening”, “aggravation” and “worsening” of structural and pre-existing social, economic and cultural iniquities in the continent.


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Main findings

Notable absences


Women in LAC as a whole have not been the subject of the extensive studies conducted by international agencies in researching the impact of Covid-19 and state measures to contain and prevent its spread. The findings presented below refer only to a few countries in the region or to particular studies.

At the conclusion of the State of the Art, in August 2021, no figures were found on femicides in the LAC region as a whole in 2020 that would make it possible to establish the difference with 2019. However, some cities and countries provided official statistics noting their increase during the pandemic (in Bogotá, Colombia, they increased by 8.6% over the previous year and in Argentina, in the first 9 months of 2020, they rose to one every 32 hours, leaving 231 children without a mother).


The findings referring to particularly vulnerable population groups, such as migrant women, indigenous women, victims of trafficking, women in prisons, women in peripheral or poor rural areas, and mothers or carers of children with disabilities, come from the experience of “expert” women, inserted and serving in these contexts, because no studies by regional public entities were found aimed at these sectors.

Gender-based violence

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Reporting increased in several countries, both through dedicated hotlines and by neighbours and family members rather than by the victims locked up in their homes. In other countries, during lockdown, the number of reports decreased because the victims were living with their aggressor and did not have a place of refuge to avoid further aggression or femicide.

During the period of restriction of movement and quarantine, the lack of state presence in the territory made it difficult for women in situations of domestic violence to flee. Psychological and social assistance was also weakened by the impossibility of accessing such services.

With the closure of schools, churches and public and private help centres, women - old, adult and young - lost spaces for expression, listening, help and support. Not being able to develop their spiritual dimension in such settings contributed to increased pain and anguish.

The reports cover physical, psychological, economic and symbolic violence, as well as violence by the State in failing to fulfil its obligations and violence in the workplace.

Specifically during the first year of the pandemic: in Brazil, 25% of women over the age of 16 suffered some kind of aggression (35.2% increase), 5 out of 10 Brazilians have seen a woman suffer violence, 46.7% of the victims also lost their jobs and began to consume more alcohol; in the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, since the beginning of the pandemic, pregnancies among girls from the age of 10 have increased; in Venezuela, although statistics are lacking, it is estimated that feminicide has increased fivefold.

Deterioration of economic autonomy

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A large percentage of women in LAC tend to be employed in the sectors that have suffered the greatest negative effects in terms of employment and income, such as tourism, manufacturing, commerce, health and education, in addition to their severe structural inclusion in the informal economy. The fall in employment levels and the increase in unemployment added to the pre-existing wage gap between men and women that characterises the gender segregation of labour.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 70.4 per cent of domestic workers were affected by the quarantine measures, through reduced economic activity, unemployment, reduced hours or loss of wages.

In countries where the government provided time-limited subsidies to the poorest, who were unable to do their temporary jobs, the economy of women and their families temporarily improved, but when the income was withdrawn and inflation rose, the economic emergency worsened compared to the pre-pandemic period.

Worsening of the feminisation of poverty

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Impoverishment placed a superlative burden on the situation of women whose households are deprived of safe drinking water and who spend 5-12 hours a week more on unpaid domestic and care work than women living without such deprivation.

The deterioration was accentuated among rural, indigenous, migrant and peripheral women, due to barriers to selling their food and handicraft products in markets or on the streets, and obstacles to accessing productive resources such as drinking water, agricultural inputs, fuel for transport, etc.

Indigenous entrepreneurs have seen their community production, on which hundreds of families depend for their livelihoods, affected and a high percentage of their small and large enterprises are disappearing.

Migrant women denounced further discrimination during the emergency, with the closure of day care centres forcing them to leave their jobs to care for their children and/or the reduction of their jobs as caregivers or domestic workers in family homes.

Physical and mental health impairment

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The prioritisation of health services to combat the effect of the virus led to a 40% decrease in pregnancy check-ups in 11 countries in the region, according to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). This led to maternal distress and an increase in maternal and infant mortality in childbirths.

The telemedicine implemented did not allow the most vulnerable women to be attended to, as they often do not know how to use mobile technologies for this type of practice. The electronic mental health system became almost inaccessible to them as they did not have a reserved space in their homes or had to share their mobile phones with the rest of their families

The lack of treatment of the sick in health centres meant that women generally took care of them at home, with the obvious risk of increased transmission of the virus.


Access to vaccination has been hindered for indigenous women’s families, as priority is given to cities and they do not receive adequate information regarding the effects of vaccines in their territories.


A number of studies from different countries have found high levels of fear, distress and depression in women, as well as psychological and emotional burnout in those who faced intensified pace and higher productivity demands in remote work.

Increased care work


The structural inequality affecting women in terms of unequal distribution of care work was accentuated due to the permanence of children and adolescents in households with access to remote classrooms, the disruption of other care networks and resources, and the limited coverage of the health system that shifted the burden of care to households. Responsibilities tripled.

In general, remote work increased the burden of care and domestic work. Only some groups of professional women or women with university or graduate education expressed that remote work brought them closer to their husbands and children and gave them more time for physical activity and leisure.

UNICEF reports reveal a 51% higher burden of care work for women. In many of the responses to the survey, indicators of stereotypes and traditional mandates for the roles of men and women within the household can still be detected, as if the roles assigned to each could not be transformed over the centuries.

The electronic mental health system became almost inaccessible for them because they lacked a reserved space in their home or had to share their cell phone with the rest of their family. 


The lack of treatment of the sick in health centers meant that, in general, women took charge of their care in their respective homes, with the evident risk of increased transmission of the virus._cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_


Access to vaccination has been hampered for the women's families
indigenous people, since cities are prioritized and adequate information is not received regarding the effects of vaccines in their territories. 


A series of studies from various countries have detected high levels of fear, anguish and depression in women, as well as emotional psychological exhaustion in those who faced, in remote work, an intensification of the pace and greater demand for productivity.

Difficulties in education and social inequalities


The closure of the schools exacerbated multiple social inequalities such as the digital divide in knowledge and access to the use of information and communication technologies, as well as the lack of policies for the reconciliation of family life and work for women, among others.

Many mothers were unable to understand school instructions and explain them to their children, nor were they able to access virtual classes due to lack of Internet connection. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the cost of broadband service for the poorest sectors is on average 13% of their income, and 39.1% of women in households in this sector have no income of their own.

The problems of having to share a mobile phone in vulnerable families with insufficient technology to store homework, resulted in many of the pupils subjected to the remote system not achieving their educational goals and the consequent distress of their mothers.

For teachers, distance education meant an extraordinary effort, particularly for teachers in rural areas. Not only did they not have the required support, but the work material was often developed for virtual teaching in cities and not in rural or multicultural contexts.

The “collapse” of education in the region due to the pandemic has not yet been strictly estimated, but a negative effect of “simulated education” and school dropout due to lack of encouragement is estimated. For example, in the midst of the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, 50% of children were not re-enrolled in school in 2021.

On the other hand, the survey responses from highly educated women in charge of accompanying children reflect a positive experience, even though adapting to the distance learning system was not always easy and a certain percentage reported fatigue and stress.

These women said they had taken advantage of the emergency to take virtual courses, or to continue or resume their studies and training in communication technologies (ICTs).

Rise of organised crime for trafficking in women

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When the borders of countries in the region remained closed, migrants and/or refugees needed irregular and/or informal ways to move, which increased their exposure to organised crime with a high impact on the commodification of women.

The pandemic did not stop trafficking networks but, on the contrary, trafficking increased due to absent or prostituted governments and collusion or inactivity of law enforcement and police forces. Traffickers and demanders of services have established new strategies of recruiting and “marketing” victims through social networks and by transporting victims to clients and returning them to their homes.

Families made destitute by hunger and poverty during the pandemic accepted that their daughters, girl children or adolescents, would provide sexual services to bring home money. Seventy-six per cent of trafficked and sexually exploited persons are women. Of every 10 persons trafficked, 6 are minors.

There was also an increase in the number of marriages of indigenous children, exchanged for money or animals. In addition, many girls and adolescents living in extreme poverty began to work as domestic servants, suffering abuse and exploitation.

The pandemic has even had a strong impact on the lives of women living “on” or “off” the street. There is a cultural, moral and religious stigma that considers them as drug addicts, crazy or prostitutes. To survive during the crisis, they risked prostitution, violence and becoming “mules” transporting drugs. With the curfew, many women ended up being arrested by the police for not having documents - a very common situation for people on the streets. The police are often very violent and brutal towards them.

Increased xenophobia and racism towards women

Mujer brasileña tradicional

Migrants often arouse xenophobia and racism, but women even more so if they fall into the hands of “coyotes”, who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border, particularly between Mexico and the United States. Millions of Venezuelan women have crossed other countries in the region, such as Colombia, to reach the north of the continent, suffering discrimination and abuse. Lately there has been a growing influx of Haitian men and women.

The crisis, among its negative effects, led to an increase in xenophobia in fundamentally welcoming peoples such as Brazil. Women from the LGBTQIA+ community were seriously assaulted or raped.

Many women as migrants and others as indigenous migrants - recognised as refugees in destination countries, but not as members of indigenous communities or indigenous peoples - were denied certain government benefits during the pandemic and continue to struggle to maintain their culture and identity.

Death in solitude and deepening of grief

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Death was the worst experience according to the women who responded to the survey: the loss of loved ones, the impossibility of saying goodbye and the prohibition of funerals and religious rites due to contagion.

Particularly acute was the suffering of mothers, wives and children of prisoners in Peru, who died during riots demanding health and medical care in the first three months of the pandemic.

The experts affirm that the deaths of those close to them have left a deep mark on women because of the mourning processes that have not been accompanied or ritualised during the pandemic.

Support and lacks


The survey responses indicate that among the categories of family, friends, church, neighbours, NGOs and government, women felt the most support from family, secondly from friends and church, and lastly from government.

Coexistence within the home, according to the women surveyed, improved or remained the same, with better communication and dialogue between family members, being able to get to know and/or value the children or the partner more. In a smaller percentage, it was conflictive and risky due to the aggressions and violence to which the women were subjected.

In terms of deprivation, the most felt need was for health, followed by education, psychological aspects and care.

Lights and shadows in the woman-Church relationship


The bond with God is what most often characterises the experience of women during the pandemic, both Catholic and of other Christian faiths, equally. It was an opportunity to find strength and encouragement to live in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic.

During the emergency, different ways of living the faith, of receiving formation from the Church through virtual means and of developing listening and spiritual guidance, as well as spaces for help and assistance, where to offer support to others, were re-evaluated. Everything helped to deepen personal and community spirituality.

The increase in social action and solidarity through the organisation of women’s networks for the particular care of others in times of pandemics is especially highlighted. Most of them consider that the Church was creative in strategies to serve its faithful.

Most of the women said they had grown closer to God and the Church. They also highlighted online celebrations and prayers as a very positive point. What they regret most is the ban on face-to-face celebrations and the consequent impossibility of receiving communion and the sacraments.

The women also witnessed the importance of the online formation meetings and the expansion of study possibilities, both personally and in groups. They perceive that the Church has sought ways to accompany; it has become closer and more committed to reality.

They acknowledged the special service that the Church provided to those sick and affected by Covid-19. However, some felt loneliness and lack of fraternity or lack of care and closeness in their illness.

Women lost their spaces and their important roles in prayer groups, catechesis, etc. The virtual Masses reinforced the role of the clergy and made the role of women in the communities invisible, relegating them only to a rather passive participation.

The interruption of the activities of religious groups and some activities was frustrating, resulting in the paralysis of the attention to people and the service provided by the pastoral care centres.

Click to download the Synthesis of the Report in: Spanish, English, French, Portuguese or Italian 

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