Women’s resilience: Integrating gender in the response to Ebola

African Development Bank


This report presents the results of desk research by the African Development Bank’s Office of the Special Envoy on Gender on the implications of Ebola virus disease (EVD) for women in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The reduction in health services has increased maternal, infant, and child mortality rates. According to reports across the three countries, women farmers and traders have lost their livelihoods due to declines in agricultural productivity, imposed quarantine measures, and closed borders. Women employed in the private sector across the sub-region are in hospitality/food service, insurance, air-transport, and shipping, sectors that have been severely hit by the Ebola virus. In addition to a loss of livelihoods, women have had limited access to healthcare services, and have been overburdened by their roles as caregivers in the home. While women have spent countless hours tending to the sick, they have exposed themselves to contagion and disengaged from productive work to sustain livelihoods.

This report pays particular attention to women’s labour force participation (or lack thereof), as well as their access to financial services, land tenure, healthcare, and decision-making in both the home and nation. The report suggests that the EVD crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has most likely impacted women in the following ways:

  • increased infection rates among women because of their traditional roles as caregivers and traders;
  • compromised the livelihoods of women market traders due to the closure of community and national markets;
  • compromised the livelihoods of women who dominate the agricultural, retail trade, hospitality and tourism sectors;
  • stigmatised women who work in hospitals and Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs);
  • barred widows from accessing their deceased husband’s land because of discriminatory inheritance laws;
  • increased abuse, sexual and gender-based violence because of the pressures of EVD, as well as reduced access to justice mechanisms; and
  • reduced the number of women accessing health care, including reproductive, child, and pregnancy related health services due to the closure of facilities across the three countries.

Women who fall within special categories of vulnerable groups, such as (mentally and physically) disabled or elderly women, will more than likely have been doubly or even triply impacted.

The AfDB’s research indicates that:

  • It is impossible to build resilience to Ebola and future infectious disease shocks in households and communities without also addressing systemic gender inequality.
  • Gender-differentiated coping mechanisms often have both direct and indirect consequences that place individuals and their households at greater risk to future shocks such as food crisis.
  • The lack of gender disaggregated data should not limit interventions.

The AfDB recommends:

  • A regional Social Investment Fund to mitigate women’s  economic losses during the pandemic and to position them for economic recovery and eventually, economic empowerment.
  • Cross-country quantitative and qualitative analyses on the socio-economic impact of EVD on women.
  • Greater partnership among donors to help reduce the infrastructure gap that contributed to the slowed response.
  • Scholarships specifically tailored for women healthcare workers.


African Development Bank. (2016). Women’s resilience: Integrating gender in the response to Ebola. Abidjan: African Development Bank.