Ebola and Gender

Posted by Kate Barth on August 22, 2014

Statistics from Ebola epidemic which has been spreading across West Africa show that women have been disproportionately affected by the disease, comprising between 55-60% of the dead. Considering that the mode of transmission of the Ebola virus—through contact with bodily fluids—and considering that women comprise the vast majority of caregivers in West Africa the fact that women have been the majority of Ebola victims is perhaps unsurprising. What is surprising is how little attention appears to be focused on the gendered-transmission of the disease.

Many infectious diseases have a gendered-aspect to their spread or expression, a fact which has too often been downplayed by epidemiologists or public health officials. However, attempts to combat an infectious disease without a concrete understanding of its gendered pathways or how the disease affects male and female bodies differently tend to be less effective than campaigns which take a disease’s gendered causes and effects into consideration. Moreover, a campaign which ignores women as a vulnerable group, is shaped by input from largely male stakeholders, and centers its understanding of the disease on its epidemiological impact on a male body, violates a State’s human rights obligations of non-discrimination.

For the benefit of all its residents, a State must ensure that, where a disease is not gender-blind, neither are the policies attempting to combat it.

For more reading on this topic as relates to the Ebola virus, click here.

Kate Barth is a legal officer at Lawyers Collective.