- The pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, left women more vulnerable to jobs losses and increased their unpaid care work.
- According to UN Women's projections 47 million more women will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2021.
- In response UN Women are launching Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice, which outlines the key priorities for a COVID-19 recovery.
Women have been at the forefront of the world’s battle against COVID-19, as healthcare workers risking their lives, as scientists in teams that have developed vaccines at record speed, as carers in families and communities, setting up food banks and childcare cooperatives, and as political and public health leaders, steering us through the very worst of times.
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At the same time, due to pre-existing gender inequalities, the social and economic impacts of the pandemic have hit women hardest. During the pandemic, women have lost their jobs and seen their earnings dwindle at a faster rate than men, with devastating impacts on their economic autonomy. This is because women tend to be concentrated in the most vulnerable informal jobs, which often lack basic rights and social protection.
Additionally, women around the world take on most unpaid care and domestic work, which is essential labour but is often not well supported by governments. As schools and daycare centres were shut by COVID-19, even more of this care work was pushed back onto women’s shoulders, squeezing out time for paid work. The consequences are stark: UN Women’s projections show that gender poverty gaps will widen, with 47 million more women pushed into extreme poverty in 2021.
Even as governments continue to fight the virus, and protect people from its worst impacts, attention is also turning to economic recovery. There’s an unmissable opportunity to use the recovery to shape a more sustainable, just and equal world. Seizing this opportunity is central to the agenda of the upcoming Generation Equality Forum, a civil society centred, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, which will take place from 30 June to 2 July, in Paris.
In addition, later this year, UN Women will launch a Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice, which outlines three priorities for COVID-19 recovery:
1. Building a caring economy
The world has recognized care work as “essential” in this crisis. Now is the moment to back that recognition with policies to properly support and reward workers in healthcare, child and elder care.
2. Generating sustainable livelihoods for all
The vulnerability of women’s jobs has been brutally revealed during the pandemic. Urgent action is needed to strengthen social protection systems and move women out of the informal economy.
3. Ensuring a gender-just, green transition
New green jobs for women, and investments in sustainable technology and infrastructure, will be critical to ensure environmental sustainability and the survival of the planet.
Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will not be easy, so the Feminist Plan makes a series of game-changing policy recommendations which can create synergies and help to unlock progress across the board.
What can the Feminist Plan achieve?
For example, investing in care services would relieve women’s unpaid care work burden, enabling them to access decent paid work opportunities. High quality care for children also has huge benefits for their education and future success. Added to this, such investments could create millions of well paid, safe care jobs, in health, education, child and elder care.
UN Women’s costing analysis shows that investing in universal, high quality childcare services in South Africa and Uruguay, for example, could create millions of new decent care jobs, generating significant tax revenue that would at least partially offset the cost of providing these services. At a time when the world urgently needs to transition to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption, care jobs are also green jobs that generate low or no emissions and contribute to sustainability.
There is encouraging evidence that governments are recognizing the benefits of these investments for gender equality and for COVID recovery. The new US administration, for example has recognised that care is infrastructure, alongside roads and bridges, pledging investments of $400 billion. Canada has recently committed resources to achieve affordable childcare for all, including improved access for indigenous communities; strengthening long-term care services; and improving the pay and working conditions of care sector workers. The Feminist Plan calls on governments to replicate and build on these efforts in all countries.
Supporting a green recovery
The COVID-19 recovery should also be used to turbocharge the transition to environmental sustainability. The Feminist Plan identifies ways that efforts to scale-up renewable and clean energy can support gender equality. Although the move away from fossil fuels will cost jobs, investments in renewable energy will create many more. Ensuring women have access to these jobs, including through retraining and reskilling programmes would help women to recover some of labour market ground lost during COVID-19.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?
The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.
The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.
These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.
In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.
In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.
If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.
If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.
But more than this, the energy transition should also expand coverage to the nearly 1 billion people who still lack access to electricity and 3 billion people who lack access to clean cooking fuels, exposing them to dangerous indoor air pollution, with women and children affected the most. The development of mini-grids and off-grid renewable energy can play a significant part in meeting these needs. Energy cooperatives, including those led by women, facilitate more equal control over energy management and consumption. Addressing energy deficits would also have a transformative impact on reducing women’s unpaid care work to gather fuel, and increase the productivity of small-scale farming too.
Vision for the future
Given the depth of the global economic crisis, developing countries will need financial support to implement a gender-responsive COVID-19 recovery. The Feminist Plan sets out the need for global cooperation and solidarity to make this possible. The International Monetary Fund is set to provide emergency funds (through a mechanism called Special Drawing Rights) for developing countries to respond to the crisis, and set a foundation to build back better and fairer, which is a good start. Meanwhile, a new global minimum tax rate proposed by the UN and now also supported by the US Government – if adopted – will help to stem the tide of tax evasion and avoidance, and ensure that everyone makes a fair contribution to the kind of world we want for the next generation.
Crises of the magnitude we face today call for big, bold ideas and extraordinary levels of global solidarity and cooperation to implement them. Our Feminist Plan provides this bold vision, and the Generation Equality Forum provides a critical opportunity to generate the momentum and commitments needed to put that vision into action.
The author is a member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network.