Antonio Guterres fears the pandemic could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality
As conveyed by UN Seceretary-General António Guterres's clear speech, this is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, exposing the deficiencies of public and private arrangements that currently function only if women play multiple and underpaid roles.
We applaud the efforts of strong leadership providing well targeted response, from German Chancellor Merkel and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg addressing national anxieties, to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern highlighting welfare in her economic measures and UN Secretary-general to shout out that women can't be excluded of the current picture.
"The COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone, everywhere 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. Today we are launching a report that shows how COVID-19 could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights – and recommends ways to put women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of resilience and recovery.
Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs have disappeared.
At the same time as they are losing paid employment, women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.
These currents are combining as never before to defeat women’s rights and deny women’s opportunities. Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together.
Progress lost takes years to regain. Teenage girls out of school may never return. I urge governments to put women and girls at the centre of their efforts to recover from COVID-19. 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. Social safety nets must be expanded.
Unpaid care work must be recognized and valued as a vital contribution to the economy.
The pandemic has also led to a horrifying increase in violence against women. Nearly one in five women worldwide has experienced violence in the past year. Many of these women are now trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions.
This was the basis for my appeal to governments earlier this week to take urgent steps to protect women and expand support services.
COVID-19 is not only challenging global health systems, but testing our common humanity.
Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone."
The year 2020, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, was intended to be ground-break ing for gender equality. Instead, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.
It is crucial that all national responses place women and girls - their inclusion, representation, rights, social and economic outcomes, equality and protection - at their centre if they are to have the necessary impacts.
This is not just about rectifying long-standing inequalities but also about building a more just and resilient world. It is in the interests of not only women and girls but also boys and men. Women will be the hardest hit by this pandemic but they will also be the backbone of recovery in communities. Every policy response that recognizes this will be the more impactful for it.
To achieve this, the policy brief emphasizes three cross-cutting priorities:
1) ENSURE WOMEN’S EQUAL REPRESENTATION IN ALL COVID-19 RESPONSE PLANNING AND DECISION-MAKING.
Evidence across sectors, including economic planning and emergency response, demonstrates unquestioningly that policies that do not consult women or include them in decision-making are simply less effective, and can even do harm. Beyond individual women, women’s organizations who are often on the front line of response in communities should also be represented and supported.
2) DRIVE TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE FOR EQUALITY BY ADDRESSING THE CARE ECONOMY, PAID AND UNPAID:
In the formal economy care jobs, from teachers to nurses, are underpaid in relation to other sectors. In the home, women perform the bulk of care work, unpaid and invisible. Both are foundational to daily life and the economy but are premised on and entrench gendered norms and inequalities.
3) TARGET WOMEN AND GIRLS IN ALL EFFORTS TO ADDRESS THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF COVID-19.
It will be important to apply an intentional gender lens to the design of fiscal stimulus packages and social assistance programmes to achieve greater equality, opportunities, and social protection.
Download the full UN-women report, policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women-en