Author: Ruma Bhargava, Project Manager, Fourth Industrial Revolution for Health, India, World Economic Forum, C4IR India & Dr Megha Bhargava, Deputy Income Tax Commissioner, Ministry of Finance, Government of India
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed socio-economic inequalities in health, income, education and mental well-being.
- Women in countries like India, which are already socially disadvantaged, have experienced these negative impacts more than most.
- What we need now are policies that intentionally target and support women – giving them access to financial resources to help them achieve safety.
COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in our social, political and economic systems and amplified pre-existing gender inequalities in these areas. We have seen the public health crisis turn into a full-fledged economic and social crisis.
As mentioned in the guidance note of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, The impact of COVID-19 on women, women have borne the burden disproportionately: job losses, challenges to health care services and delivery, weakened social security systems, and increased gender-based violence and abuse.
The recent UN Women report show that COVID-19 will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, including 47 million women and girls. Four in 10 female workers in India have lost their jobs since the lockdown.
Women are overrepresented in many of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19, such as hospitality and entertainment. For domestic workers, 80% of whom are women, the situation is grim; they were neither paid during lockdown nor re-employed when things started to return to normal. Even before the pandemic, paid domestic work, like many other informal sector jobs, lacked basic protections for workers and social security guarantees. It is a real concern that women are likely to experience long-term setbacks in labor force participation and income, even as we open up our economies and return to the new normal.
The working women who did not suffer job losses were mainly frontline warriors and providers of essential services, such as health workers, sanitation workers and grocers. These women continued to work – to compensate for the loss of income of other family members – often with insufficient access to appropriate personal protective equipment and overloaded work schedules, putting their health and that of their families at risk.
As the lockdown forced people to stay at home and schools closed, the burden of unpaid domestic work – caring for children and the elderly – falls disproportionately on women. According to UN Women report lockdown has resulted in increased levels of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. According to the report, around 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual and / or physical violence from an intimate partner in the past year. Cyber ââviolence, such as sexualized trolling, harassment and abuse online, has also escalated.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?
World Economic Forum measures gender gaps since 2006 in annual report Global Gender Gap Report.
The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in reducing the gender gap at the country level. To transform this knowledge into concrete actions and national progress, we have developed the Closing the accelerators of the gender gap public-private collaboration model.
These accelerators met in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.
In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch an accelerator to close the gender gap. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women make up just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to move into managerial positions.
In these countries, CEOs and ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further narrow economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized child care, and the removal of unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.
If you are a company in one of the Closing the Gender Gap accelerators countries you can join the local member base.
If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have an accelerator to close the gender gap, you can contact us to explore the possibilities of creating one.
School closures and loss of livelihoods forced many young girls to work in agriculture to support their families or they married early and became pregnant. Estimates show that 11 million more girls could drop out of school by the end of the COVID-19 pandemic; evidence from previous crises suggests that many will not return.
Previous health crises have shown that resources are often diverted from routine health services to mitigate the impact of current health problems. This further reduces the already limited access of many girls and young women to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as maternal, newborn and child health services.
Every crisis comes with an opportunity; look back, introspect, and strategically plan a more nuanced response to prevent future disasters. This is an important moment to rethink and formulate policies from a gender perspective, addressing existing inequalities and gender gaps.
The lack of gender-specific data makes many gender inequalities invisible. In the context of COVID-19, accurate sex-disaggregated data on incidence, testing, hospitalizations and deaths is crucial to holistically understanding the impact of COVID-19 on women, including healthcare. maternal and child health. Equally important is collecting sex-disaggregated data on job losses and unemployment. These important data points can help predict the full impact of the pandemic in communities based on gender, age, location, economic status, disability, and migrant status.
What we need now are policies that intentionally target women, support women-led businesses, give them access to financial resources, and improve their income security. There is an urgent need to introduce specific economic support programs for women, including direct cash transfers on the lines of the savings plan of Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), such as extended unemployment benefits, subsidies and subsidized loans to small businesses owned by women; access to affordable and quality child care. Increase in allocation to Mahatma Gandhi’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) and expanding the limit on unsecured loans to women’s self-help groups are steps in the right direction. Now is the time to recognize this unpaid domestic work and redistribute the burden among other family members.
Any response should reflect the fact that women have fundamental roles both in the workplace and in families, and the aim should be to support women in these roles by improving working conditions, such as working hours. flexible work, leave options and better childcare and school systems that meet the needs of working women.
We must ensure that girls do not drop out of schools due to prolonged school closures and protect them from early marriage. Parents must be counseled and teachers have a critical role to play in ensuring that girls return to class when schools reopen.
With the increase in cases of violence against women exacerbated by prolonged isolation and home confinement, there is an imminent need for safe access to support services and emergency measures, including legal assistance, legal remedies and medical and psychological support. National Commission for Women a launched a WhatsApp emergency number in addition to online complaint links and emails to provide immediate help to victims. We need to strengthen women’s rights organizations working on the front lines and involve them in assessing and monitoring the risk and prevalence of violence among women, and then develop programs to mitigate domestic violence.
Without gender-sensitive policies, the crisis risks derailing the hard-won gains over the decades. We need an inclusive and transformative approach that is crucial to building a more equal and resilient society where women are at the center of pandemic preparedness, response and recovery.