COVID-19 has been a setback for women. Gender-responsive policies can stem the losses

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ruma Bhargava, Project Lead, Fourth Industrial Revolution for Health, India, World Economic Forum, C4IR India & Dr Megha Bhargava, Deputy Commissioner Income Tax, Ministry of Finance, Government of India


  • COVID-19 pandemic has exposed socio-economic inequalities in health, income, education and mental wellbeing.
  • Women in countries like India, who are already socially disadvantaged, have suffered these negative impacts more than most.
  • What we need now are policies which intentionally target and support women – giving them access to financial resources to help them achieve security.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities in our social, political and economic systems and amplified pre-existing gender inequalities in these spheres. We have witnessed the public health crisis turn into a fully fledged economic and social crisis.

As mentioned in the policy brief of the Secretary General, United Nations, The Impact of COVID-19 on Women, women have borne the burden disproportionately: job losses, challenges to healthcare services and delivery, weakened social security systems, and increased gender abuse and violence.

The recent report by UN Women shows that COVID-19 will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. Four out of every 10 working women in India have lost their jobs post since 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 has been grim; they were neither paid during the lockdown nor reemployed when things started getting back to normal. Even before the pandemic, paid domestic work, like many other informal sector jobs, lacked basic worker protections and social security safeguards. It is a genuine concern that women are likely to experience long-term setbacks in workforce participation, and income, even as we open up our economies and get back to the new normal.

Those working women who did not suffer job losses were primarily frontline warriors and essential service providers, such as healthcare workers, sanitation staff and grocery workers. These women continued working – to compensate the loss of income from other family members – often with inadequate access to appropriate personal protective equipment and overstretched work schedules, putting their health and the health of their families at risk.

As lockdown forced people to stay at home and schools closed, the burden of unpaid domestic work – taking care of children and the elderly – fell disproportionately on women. As per the report by UN Women lockdown led to increased levels of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. According to the report, an estimated 243 million women and girls, aged 15-49, have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last year. Cyber-violence, like sexualized trolling and online stalking and abuse, have intensified too.

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. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1377167636979609603&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F04%2Fwomen-must-not-be-left-behind-in-the-fight-against-covid-19-india%2F&sessionId=1440f75cda04df719ba02e69c45f8ddc69b88e7a&theme=light&widgetsVersion=1ead0c7%3A1617660954974&width=550px



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.

School closures and loss of livelihoods have forced many young girls to work in agriculture to support their families or they have got married early and become pregnant. Estimates show that an additional 11 million girls may leave school by the end of the COVID-19 pandemic; evidence from previous crises suggest that many will not return.

Previous health crises have shown that 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, new-born and child health services.

Every crisis comes with an opportunity; to look back, introspect and strategically plan a more nuanced response to prevent future catastrophes. This moment provides an important moment to rethink and formulate policies with a gender sensitive lens, addressing the existing inequalities and gender gaps.

Have you read?

The absence of gender specific data renders many gender inequalities invisible. In the context of COVID-19, accurate sex-disaggregated data on incidence, testing, hospitalization and deaths is crucial to holistically understand the impact of COVID-19 on women, including maternal and child health care. It is equally important to collect sex-disaggregated data on job losses and unemployment. These important data points can help predict the pandemic’s full impact in communities on the basis of sex, age, location, economic status, disability and migrant status.

What we need now are policies which intentionally target women, support women-led businesses, give them access to financial resources and enhance their income security. There is an urgent need to introduce women specific economic support packages, including direct cash transfers on the lines of the savings scheme Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), such as expanded unemployment benefits, grants and subsidized loans to women-owned small businesses, access to affordable and quality childcare services. Increased allocation to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) and expanding the limit of collateral-free lending to women’s self help groups are steps in the right direction. Now is the time to acknowledge this unpaid domestic care work and redistribute the burden among other family members.

Image: World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021

Any response needs to reflect the fact that women have fundamental roles in both the workplace and in families, and the aim should be to support women in those roles by improving working conditions, like flexible working hours, leave options and better childcare services and school systems that suit the needs of working women.

We need to ensure that girls do not drop out of schools due to extended school closures and protect them from early marriage. Parents need to be counselled and the school teachers have a vital role in ensuring that girls get back to classes when schools reopen.

With the increased cases of violence against women made worse by extended isolation and home confinement, there is an impending need for safe access to support services and emergency measures, including legal assistance, judicial remedies, and medical and psychological support. National Commission for Women has launched an emergency WhatsApp number in addition to online complaint links and emails to provide immediate help to the 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 in women and then develop programmes to mitigate domestic violence.

Without gender-responsive policies, the crisis risks derailing hard-won gains made over decades. We need an inclusive and transformative approach which is crucial for building a more equal and resilient society where women are at the centre of pandemic preparedness, response and recovery.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

What does reimagining our energy system look like?

France pushes UK to stay and Germany to pay

Sudan: European Union provides €30 million in humanitarian assistance

Want a Sustainable Earth? Bring on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Climate Change : An Already Health Emergency

Mergers: Commission clears E.ON’s acquisition of Innogy, subject to conditions

Governments, businesses ‘walk the talk’ for investment in sustainable development: UN forum

EU-U.S. Privacy Shield: Second review shows improvements but a permanent Ombudsperson should be nominated by 28 February 2019

Humanitarian aid: €7 million for disaster preparedness in Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region

As Yemen relief operations face funding gap, timing of surge in violence ‘couldn’t be worse’

Paid paternity leave should be the norm in the US

#UNGA NEWS ROUNDUP: Funding plea for UNRWA, Burkina Faso and CAR updates, Guterres praises climate change ‘pioneer’ Chirac

EU Border and Coast Guard: new corps of 10 000 border and coast guards by 2027

‘The clock is ticking’ on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, says UN deputy chief

Robot inventors are on the rise. But are they welcomed by the patent system?

Why India can show us how to achieve growth with purpose

GSMA Announces New Keynote Speakers, Event Updates for 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Back to the basics for the EU: Investment equals Growth

More electric cars on EU roads by 2030

10 ways central banks are experimenting with blockchain

Here’s a reason to feel cheerful – the world is full of Good Samaritans

Sassoli to EU governments: Rise to the challenge. Find new shared ways to finance our recovery

‘I don’t like to give up’: veteran UN envoy reveals how two decades of quiet diplomacy gave birth to North Macedonia

UN food agency appeals for access to key storage facility amid fight for Hudaydah

We lack a global framework for saving our environment. Here’s how we change that

Politics needs to “Youth UP” in order the ensure the future of our democracies

How cities, not states, can solve the world’s biggest problems

Why tourism policy needs to use more imagination

This new form of currency could transform the way we see money

This brand is recycling underwear – here’s why

FROM THE FIELD: Turning waste into a business in the slums of Yaoundé, Cameroon

Drought in Europe: Member States agree on support measures proposed by the Commission

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “Chinese economy has great potential, resilience and ample space for policy adjustment”, China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao reassures from Davos

EU ready to relinquish its internal tax havens

A Sting Exclusive: “Youth voice must be heard in climate change negotiations!”, Bérénice Jond Board Member of European Youth Forum demands from Brussels

The financial future of Eurozone on the agenda of Friday’s ECOFIN council

As children in Ebola-affected areas of DR Congo head back to school, UNICEF ramps up support

Ebola emergency chief decries new attacks on frontline staff, after DR Congo worker death

Azerbaijan chooses Greek corridor for its natural gas flow to EU

Donald Trump’s victory is a great opening for global EU leadership on the sustainability agenda

Coal addiction ‘must be overcome’ to ease climate change, UN chief says in Bangkok

Erasmus+ 2021-2027: more people to experience learning exchanges in Europe

COVID-19 vaccines: MEPs quiz top officials on authorisation and contracts

‘Uphold human dignity’, dismantle ‘specious notion of racial superiority’ urges UN chief

Parliament sets up plan to fight the 3,600 criminal rings of EU

FROM THE FIELD: Children in warzones denied right to education

LGBT community in Chechnya faces ‘new wave of persecution’: UN human rights experts

European Commission: Does Apple, Starbucks and Fiat really pay their taxes?

From zero to one: a realist’s guide to overcoming hopelessness

Colombia: ‘Terrible trend’ of rights defenders killed, harassed; UN calls for ‘significant effort’ to tackle impunity

Gender disparity in salary and promotion in medicine: still a long way to go

A Sting Exclusive: “Doing ourselves a favour”, Vice President Dombrovskis underscores that this time growth has to come from within the EU

Cyclone Fani hits India, UN moves to protect vulnerable refugees in Bangladesh

The business of media in 2021

Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of joint control over Prosegur Alarmas by Telefónica and Prosegur

DPRK reports ‘little progress’ since historic June 2018 summit with US

Emotional control and introspectivity in times of pandemic

A revolution, an ecosystem, an ocean: 5G is just the beginning

New Eurobarometer survey shows: The majority of Europeans think the EU should propose additional measures to address air quality problems

UN Mission, community leaders, condemn South Sudan violence which left two dead at camp

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s