Wednesday, 6 May, 2020
With each passing day, the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects are becoming more apparent and alarming.
We are all adapting to new ways of living: learning what it means to maintain social distance, working from home, home-schooling and communicating.
While the pandemic may appear like a shared experience, its impact reveals the different realities of men and women.
For many women and girls around the world, the pandemic presents additional challenges to their survival and quest for equality.
In recent days, we have observed that many of the impacts of the pandemic are hitting women disproportionately hard from concerns to their health and safety, to additional care burden and increased exposure to domestic violence.
According to a World Health Organisation survey of 104 countries, women make up about 70 per cent of health and social workers worldwide, placing them at greater risk while caring for patients.
Added to this, women workers face elevated levels of stress as they worry about endangering their families when they return home from work. Despite these enormous sacrifices, their jobs tend to be undervalued and underpaid.
Sounding an alarm bell on this shadow pandemic, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key component of their national response plans for Covid-19.
Guterres called on governments to put women’s safety first as they take action through increasing investment in online services and civil society organisations.
In our responses to the pandemic, we must not be gender blind or else women will bear an economic cost substantially higher than men which will lead to further widening of the gender gap estimated to close in 257 years at current trajectory.
Yet, the benefits of women’s inclusion and participation in economic life and decision making are clear.
The crisis has been an acid test for what effective leadership looks like in the face of a global crisis. It is worth noting that a good number of countries with the best response to Covid-19 have one thing in common- all have women leading them.
Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand and Taiwan are ahead of the curve in beating coronavirus and they have set a precedent on how to manage a pandemic with a decline in recorded new cases, while many countries are experiencing a rise in cases of Covid-19.
Government measures to cushion citizens from the impact of the pandemic have been swift and multi-faceted.
Decision-makers at the frontlines can further support women during this crisis by ensuring structures such as stimulus packages are designed around the reality of women’s work and needs.
The short-term and medium-term recovery strategies should also include women’s economic resilience within this and future shocks.
The private sector needs to join hands with the government, and other actors, to offer immediate relief as well as support for long-term recovery.
Companies that have implemented family-friendly workplace policies and flexible arrangements for working parents have a headstart during this crisis.
They can also ensure suppliers that rely heavily on female labour promptly receive payment for orders while being lenient to women entrepreneurs.
The United Nations Global Compact is supporting gender-inclusive leadership, response and recovery to Covid-19 through women empowerment initiatives such as the Target Gender Equality which underscores the need for women’s full participation and representation in decision-making roles.
By responding to women’s needs and supporting women’s leadership, companies can speed global progress in addressing the pandemic and future crises.
The propensity to recover from this crisis hinges on how we include everyone. If more women take part in formulating a new social and economic order, chances are it will be more responsive to the needs of all and make us all more resilient to future shocks.