A crisis, whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic or the devastating effects of climate change, can be an opportunity to empower women and advance gender equality by putting women in the centre of the recovery process, speakers told the Commission on the Status of Women during a panel discussion today.
Titled “Harnessing COVID-19 recovery for gender equality and a sustainable future”, the interactive dialogue featured presentations from Jayati Ghosh of India, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Gordana Gavrilović of Serbia, Gender Equality Advisor to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Coordination Body for Gender Equality; Mercedes D’Alessandro of Argentina, Economist, Researcher and Adviser at the Ministry of the Economy; Sherilyn MacGregor of the United Kingdom, Reader in Environmental Politics at the University of Manchester; Lebogang Ramafoko, Chief Executive of Tekano Health Equity of South Africa; and Papa Seck, Chief of Research and Data Section at the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).
Ms. Ghosh said that the conditions for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are more perilous than ever, as Governments continue to prioritize profits over people. Stressing the need for a longer-term vision, she said the world must see a change of focus and a shift to a new economic model. Instead of considering how to make women work for the economy, it is imperative to think how the economy can work for women. She also underscored the need for investment in health care, the care economy and green jobs and for supporting small and medium‑sized enterprises owned by women by making credits available to them. In that regard, policy measures must be substantive.
At the international level low- and middle-income countries need more fiscal space, she said, emphasizing the need for better financial flows and greater global public investment. “We need to rethink how to look at the international system in order for the national system to deliver,” she said.
Ms. Gavrilović said the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an economic crisis, which, once again, had a considerable impact on women. Women are mainly employed in lower-paying jobs, especially women from vulnerable groups like Roma women, women from rural areas and those with disabilities. The crisis led to many women becoming partially or fully economically dependent on their partners, some of whom might be abusive, making it very difficult for female survivors of gender‑based violence to leave their abusers and seek help.
Citing a study conducted by UN‑Women, she said almost 16,000 women were registered as survivors of violence in Serbia in 2020. With that in mind, her country remains truly dedicated to solving this problem and is committed to increasing and promoting gender equality in all sectors of society. Serbia is among the few countries in the world to have conducted an economic analysis of unpaid care and domestic work which showed that women spend twice as much time doing unpaid work in their households, which leaves them with less time for education and paid work.
Ms. D’Alessandro said that Argentina carried out early diagnostics of the COVID-19 crisis, as women suffer the most in all crises. The pandemic created a care crisis, in which women’s household chores significantly increased. Their share of community care increased, as well as most workers in health care and education are women.
In 2020, her Government rolled out measures to soften the impact of the crisis on women, including assistance to mothers, who are among the hardest hit, as well as poor households, she said. In 2021, when the economy started to rebound, women were the lead players in recovery. In Latin America, only Argentina and Bolivia saw women’s employment recover to their pre-pandemic levels, she said, adding that an early diagnosis had worked.
Ms. MacGregor said that existing visions for a just recovery from the pandemic and for a fair transition away from fossil-fueled economies have been critically assessed, and then remade, through an intersectional ecofeminist lens in order to propose a feminist green new deal. This lens offers a set of solutions to the interlocking crises of care and climate. Care jobs are green jobs. The feminist new green deal calls for increased pay and better working conditions for care workers and the creation of new care-related jobs, such as in health and social care.
Stressing that care work has relatively low environmental impact, so it should be seen as work that moves economies towards decarbonization, she also noted that the deal also calls for public investment in social infrastructure. Each pound invested in the care sector produces nearly three times as many jobs as an equivalent investment in construction. Co-location of workplaces and essential services and retail, such as office buildings with on-site care centres, schools, canteens, laundry services, makes juggling multiple tasks more convenient for people with care responsibilities, especially women with children.
Ms. Ramafoko said that the structural inequalities inherited from the Apartheid regime means that inequality in South Africa invariably overlaps with poverty, socioeconomic disadvantage and race. The lockdown and spread of the COVID-19 virus — and the resultant health crisis — exacerbated existing inequality and crises of poverty, increased unemployment, deepened racial divides and led to higher levels of sexual and gender-based violence against women and children.
To build back better, the only way forward is through an intersectional feminist approach that directs resources to marginalized and disempowered groups first, she said. This approach should be applied to all aspects of lives. “We cannot keep on supporting economic and political systems that are not gendered,” she warned, stressing that the solution is to listen to the voices of women.
Mr. Seck said UN-Women collected and analysed data on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality over the past two years, and also monitored the policy response to the pandemic. There are real concerns that, without decided action, the pandemic is already leading to long-term reversals of gender equality and women’s rights. The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker revealed that only 12 per cent of all social protection and labor market measures adopted in response to the pandemic have targeted women’s economic security and only 7 per cent have provided support for rising unpaid care demands.
However, he pointed out, the recovery provides an opening to do things differently for women. Panelists have identified critical steps towards building greener and more equal societies that resonate with UN-Women’s recently launched report “Beyond COVID-19 A Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice”. Global leaders can choose between doubling down on the mistakes of the past or seizing the opportunity to do things differently and turn this moment into a “breakthrough” for a green and gender-just future.
In the ensuing discussion, Saudi Arabia’s representative said women’s empowerment is a pillar of her country’s public policy, highlighting several measures undertaken by the Government, including removal of red tape for applying for benefits, and assistance to pregnant and nursing women.
Switzerland’s youth delegate said it is essential that women be part of a full, equal and meaningful decision-making processes at all levels and he was curious to hear good practices to guarantee this.
In the United States, its representative said, women accounted for 70 per cent of net job losses due to the pandemic, with black women seriously affected. Her country is working to expand economic opportunities for women, welcoming the panel presentation on feminist green new deal.
Georgia’s delegate said the Government rolled out anti-crisis plans, including compensations to those who lost their income amid COVID-19; compensation to children; subsidies for utilities; and measures to support business. Some preconditions and barriers to applying to economic support programmes were eliminated. Women-run businesses and women applicants received extra points during the assessment.
A speaker from World YWCA urged Member States to heed evidence from the ground and work with women’s rights movements and organizations to learn from experience during COVID-19 recovery and response, and build on that to ensure women, young women and other marginalized genders are at the decision-making table.
Japan’s representative said her country has incorporated a gender perspective in disaster risk reduction policies and programmes and used the 2011 tsunami disaster as a chance to build back better. Japan is applying that experience in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. An unprecedented crisis offers a chance to build back stronger and realize gender equality.
Also speaking were the representatives of Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Sudan and United Arab Emirates. A representative from the European Union, in its capacity as observer, and speakers from several civil society organizations also participated in the discussion.
The Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m., Friday, 25 March to conclude its sixty-sixth session.