Women and girls tend to be the most vulnerable groups during conflict and crisis, and COVID-19 has put them more at risk all around the world.
Women are more likely to be exposed to the virus and experience the social and economic challenges created by the pandemic. They disproportionately work in the care economy as health care and frontline workers and are usually the ones to look after their families and children. They are overrepresented in industries hardest hit by the pandemic.
Access to women’s health care becomes even more limited as resources get diverted to combat the virus, a common trend during epidemics. The list goes on and on.
The world was already behind in fighting gender inequalities, and now COVID-19 further threatens progress in several areas.
Millions of girls may not return to school in 2021 and domestic violence rates are skyrocketing. Women who have been able to hold onto their jobs during the pandemic still receive the lowest wages for work in developing and developed countries alike.
At this rate, it could take 163 years to close the gender wage gap — even longer if women keep leaving the workforce in droves.
A global gender-responsive COVID-19 recovery is imperative to keeping the world on track to achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals and can help end extreme poverty through sustainable development by 2030.
Here’s why world leaders, corporations, philanthropists, activists, and everyday Global Citizens must take action before it’s too late.
What Would the World Need to Do to Achieve a Global Gender-Responsive COVID-19 Recovery?
All countries must approach the response to COVID-19 with a gender lens to prevent leaving women behind. Governments need to prioritize policies that offer women social protection, and initiatives that support women on the ground need additional aid.
Everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to rebuild after the pandemic and live free of extreme poverty. The international community must join together to protect women and girls against violence, ensure women can reenter the workforce, prioritize access to sexual and reproductive health, address imbalanced care burdens, stop harmful practices such as child marriage, and promote female leadership in decision-making.
3 Things You Should Know About Global Gender-Responsive COVID-19 Recovery
- Only 1 in 8 countries worldwide had measures in place to protect women from the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
- COVID-19 could push 47 million women into poverty.
- Women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of job losses overall. Women’s jobs are also 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who Could Benefit From a Global Gender-Responsive COVID-19 Recovery?
We cannot achieve the Global Goals if half of society continues to be at a major disadvantage because of their gender. Everyone stands to benefit from political, economic, and social equity for women.
When women are empowered, men have more career opportunities within jobs that have been stereotypically gendered. Providing equal opportunities for women also makes humanitarian aid more effective. In countries where women are among the top decision-makers in legislatures, income inequality and corruption are lower. While women only lead 21 countries, they have set examples for the rest of the world by leading some of the most effective response plans.
The COVID-19 crisis is affecting women and young girls in every area of life. Women represent the majority of people living in poverty in most regions worldwide. The pandemic is expected to worsen the gender-poverty gap and plunge 206 million women into poverty by 2030. A global gender-sensitive COVID-19 recovery could be the difference between 47 million more women and girls falling into extreme poverty or reaching their full potential.
Women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men, which means they have less time for paid labor or work longer hours of paid and unpaid work. The pandemic is only exacerbating the imbalanced care burden.
Unless recovery responses focus on targeting women, women-run businesses will also continue to suffer.
The surge in violence against women since COVID-19 spread around the world is being referred to by the United Nations as the “shadow pandemic.” Gender-based violence has increased by 33% in many countries as more women and girls are stuck at home with their abusers during lockdowns and without the resources to seek help or find support. Survivors of gender-based violence can be stigmatized and rejected from society, drop out of school, lose employment opportunities, experience early pregnancy, and are at an increased risk of exploitation. Violence not only threatens women’s physical, sexual, and mental health, but also takes a toll on their personal and social well-being and has a ripple effect within families and throughout communities.
Disruptions to health care systems where women receive checkups, vaccinations, and maternal care mean mothers are losing 20% of their health and social services globally. Limited access to family planning puts women at risk of unplanned pregnancies and sets countries further away from their goals to reduce preventable maternal deaths.
What’s more, harmful practices are on the rise globally. Nearly 4.1 million girls were at risk of female genital mutilation in 2020. A year delay in programs to end child marriage, in combination with economic crises, could cause 13 million additional child marriages in the next decade.
What Is Being Done to Achieve a Global Gender-Responsive COVID-19 Recovery?
Since UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a collective effort to prioritize the protection of women in April, 150 countries have signed on. The UN and its partners have pushed for more funding of essential services, promoting prevention, improving law enforcement’s involvement, and collecting data to prevent gender-based violence.
Boosting economic recovery will require policies that cover paid leave for men and women, investments in infrastructure that alleviate unpaid work, flexible work schedules, and onsite child care in the workplace can all improve women’s participation in the workforce.
UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are using the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, which analyzes more than 2,500 gender measures across 206 countries and territories, to hold countries accountable as they introduce new recovery plans.
The United Nations’ Independent Accountability Panel (IAP) is calling for countries to follow through with commitments to promote equal access to health care. IAP’s effort aims to meet international health standards through health care data, by promoting the hiring of additional health care workers, and holding leaders accountable.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is prioritizing continuing sexual and reproductive health services and interventions combating gender-based violence and harmful practices, and securing a necessary supply of contraceptives and reproductive health methods, knowing that the pandemic has already caused more than 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies due to disrupted family planning access.
How Can a Global Gender-Responsive COVID-19 Recovery Plan Help End Poverty and Achieve the Global Goals?
The UN’s Global Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It also aims to meet targets necessary for a global gender-responsive COVID-19 recovery — eliminating harmful practices, ensuring full participation in leadership and decision-making, promoting gender equality policies, ending all violence against and the exploitation of women and girls, addressing domestic responsibilities, and providing universal access to reproductive health.
What Action Can We All Take to Help?
Governments can recommit to previous pledges to gender equality and make new commitments that specifically respond to the pandemic’s impact on women’s health and economic empowerment, and provide long-term solutions.
The UN and the World Health Organization will lead the 65th Commission on the Status of Women virtually March 15-26. Women’s leadership, gender-based violence, and women’s empowerment will be key focus areas at the conference.
The Generation Equality Forum, organized by UN Women and hosted by France and Mexico, will also take place March 29-31 in Mexico City, and in Paris June 30 to July 2 to set new goals to move forward gender equality measures.
As part of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World, we are establishing the Equity Response network — a group of partner organizations working to counter justice and equity issues heightened by the pandemic, including gender equality, racial equity, legal empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, and more.
Global Citizen aims to mobilize $50 million in funding for UNFPA’s COVID-19 response to address the pandemic’s impact on women and girls’ health, rights, and economic opportunities.
We are also asking governments to make new commitments to the Generation Equality Forum Action Coalitions on women’s economic justice and rights to set a gender-inclusive COVID-19 recovery in motion.
Global Citizens can take action to support women and girls and #ActForEqual here.