Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Here’s how to achieve gender equality after the pandemic

Doctor Bertholon shakes hand with a resident at "Les Figuiers" retirement home (Ehpad - Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Villeneuve-Loubet, France, April 23, 2020.     REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RC2GAG936USH

Women are more likely to work on the frontlines of healthcare. Image: REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

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  • Preparing budgets from a gender perspective will help us establish a more inclusive world order.
  • Gender-disaggregating data serves as the basis for gender budgeting.
  • Any effort to mitigate the fallout of COVID-19 without the gender lens dilutes its efficacy.

Our response to COVID-19 is fundamentally a question of who we are. When we say that ensuring the wellbeing of half the world’s population matters, do we believe it? Or do we say it to be diplomatic?

Have you read?

Most indicators would suggest it’s the latter, as we’ve spent decades admiring the problem of gender inequity with little to show for our efforts. Not one country in the entire world can say it has achieved equality among the genders. And between 2019 and 2020, we’ve added 55 extra years to the timeline for closing the gender gap in economic equality. We are now an estimated 257 years away from achieving economic gender equity.

If we truly believe that gender equity is the key to global success – and we should because the data overwhelmingly support this conclusion, then now is our time to step up and establish a new, more inclusive world order.

Gender budgeting is the ideal vehicle to drive such a change, and the G20 is the ideal institution to lead the endeavour.

The G20’s moment to stand forward on gender budgeting

The expansive reach of COVID-19’s economic damage requires a massive and coordinated response at the global level. Being that the G20 members represent nearly 80% of the world’s economy, 75% of international trade, and 60% of the global population, we must support their efforts to mitigate the impact of this global pandemic.

Specifically, we must call on the G20 to initiate the ubiquitous application of gender budgeting – preparing budgets or analyzing them from a gender perspective – across response efforts. This is not only in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to achieve gender equality – it is also in line with the statement released by the Business 20 (B20), the Labour 20 (L20), which represents the interests of workers, and the Women 20, which urged the G20 to “use all available policy tools to minimize the economic and social damage from the pandemic, restore global growth, maintain market stability, and strengthen resilience”.

Gender budgeting is among those available policy tools mentioned in the joint statement – and it is perhaps the sharpest tool of them all. Let’s explore why.

Why gender budgeting now?

COVID-19 will impact the world of work in three key ways, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO):

1. The quantity of jobs available (unemployment and underemployment)

2. The quality of work (wages and access to social protections)

3. Outsized effects on the most vulnerable employees (namely women)

There are many ways we can address these three categories of COVID-induced disruptions. One of the most effective and sustainable ways is by applying the gender lens. That is, take the economic data and gender-disaggregate it. Then, use those findings to create sound policy decisions.

What is the unemployment rate for women versus men? How many female employees have access to affordable healthcare compared to male employees? How are men coping with stay-at-home orders? How are women coping?

Gender-disaggregating the data serves as the basis for gender budgeting and provides the requisite situational understanding to craft effective policy. If gender budgeting sounds intuitive, it’s because it is. Yet, the world has passed $8 trillion of fiscal stimulus to combat COVID-19 and we have little indication that this money has been gender-lensed. This is troubling.

A gender-blind approach to fiscal stimulus a) results in an inefficient allocation of resources, and b) risks exacerbating existing inequities. These two externalities apply in times of prosperity and are even more pronounced in times of economic crisis.

So far, countries have taken fiscal actions amounting to about $8 trillion to contain the pandemic and its damage to the economy.

Women are shouldering the burden of COVID-19’s economic fallout

Take the ILO’s first “world of work” category disruption, the quantity of jobs available, as an example. Social distancing and lockdown measures have impacted nearly 81% of the world’s labour force. We already know that women are more likely than men to lose their jobs during this crisis. In the UK, for example, lower-paid, female, and young workers are seven times more likely to work in sectors that have shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

Now let’s consider the ILO’s second category of disruption, the quality of work available. The jobs women work do not provide adequate economic security for many of them and their families to weather this storm. For entrenched structural reasons, women earn 16% less than men – and that’s the global average. Some countries have pay gaps of up to 35%. In the US, home to the world’s largest economy, the gender pay gap causes women to miss out on $10,122 each year. Moreover, women represent less than 40% of total global employment but represent 57% of part-time workers – workers whose jobs are among the first to be cut when the economy nosedives. Earning less, saving less, and holding less stable jobs reduces women’s ability to absorb the economic aftershocks of COVID-19.

Finally, we need to examine the outsized effects of COVID-19 on some of our world’s most vulnerable, namely women. As the Ebola virus has demonstrated, quarantine measures dramatically weakened women’s economic ability, thus increasing their poverty rates and the severity of food insecurity. And while economic activity bounced back quickly for men, economic insecurity lingered much longer for women.

Or look at the unpaid labour economy. Prior to COVID-19, women did triple the amount of unpaid domestic labour as men. This unpaid labour has been called the backbone of our economy for a reason. In Costa Rica, unpaid work accounts for 25.3% of GDP. Now with 3.9 billion people in lockdown and 1.37 billion students not at school, women’s burden of unpaid labour has sky-rocketed.

The economic upside of inclusive budgeting

A gender-sensitive response to COVID-19 is more than just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. Any effort to mitigate the fallout of COVID-19 without the gender lens dilutes its efficacy. And on a fundamental level, we cannot prosper when the needs of half of the world’s population are ignored. Analysts already predict that the coronavirus pandemic will cause the global economy to miss out on $5 trillion of growth over the next two years. If we want to bounce back from this crisis faster and stronger, then we must apply the gender lens to relief packages.

Not only will gender budgeting accelerate and fortify our economic recovery, it will also fast-track us to an equitable and more resilient world. In fact, we could unlock $12 trillion in economic gains by closing the gender equity gap. Make no mistake, this is not a women’s issue. It’s in everybody’s best interest for leaders to practice gender budgeting, starting immediately.

How to put gender budgeting in action

If the current state of emergency is ground zero, then now is our opportunity to take a stand for inclusivity by placing gender at the centre of forthcoming fiscal policy. Here’s how we can make sure that happens:

1. Engage women in decision-making processes

Women are 50% of the world’s population. Their lived experiences, talents, and perspectives need a seat at the table. Again, this isn’t just the nice thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. Women are effective policymakers and when they are involved in peace negotiation processes, for instance, the final agreement is 64% less likely to fail.

2. Gender-disaggregate all economic data

Gender-disaggregating data is the foundation of gender budgeting. When we collect data, we need to make sure we disaggregate it based on gender. This includes rates of infection, unemployment, underemployment, number of abuse cases, and unpaid labour burden. For example, women represent 70% of the global health workforce and are more likely to work on the frontlines of healthcare. As such, they face higher risks of exposure to the virus than men. In Spain, 72% of infected healthcare workers are women. So what are we going to do about it?

3. Use the gender lens to craft relief programs

Let gender-disaggregated data guide the creation of policy solutions. That way we can address the needs of populations in proportion to the size of the need. Cash-transfer programmes should take into account that women are more likely to hold informal work arrangements and have care obligations that may prevent them from accessing aid. In South Asia, over 80% of women in non-agricultural jobs have informal employment. It would be a shame if access to social protections and consumer stimulus depended on participation in the formal sector.

4. Ensure equity of impact by integrating gender-based assessments

The goal of these assessments is to analyze the impact of policy measures so they do not inadvertently hinder women’s labour force participation or access to social protections. In the UK, women shouldered 85% of the impact of austerity measures between 2010 and 2015. That’s largely because women are more likely to be single parents and depend on the welfare benefits that were cut from the budget.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Let’s get to work, together

We are rapidly exhausting our list of excuses when it comes to achieving gender equity. As we stand in the middle of this historic inflection point, now is our moment to come together as a global community to close the gender gap once and for all – to establish a new, more inclusive world order; a new, more inclusive social contract. After COVID-19, there will be no more excuses. We have all the tools to make gender equity a reality in this lifetime. Will we pick them up and use them? History will judge us.

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