People's Stories Women's Rights

The social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard
by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UN Women Executive Director
16 Mar. 2020
A week since The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a pandemic and robust measures around the world attempt to contain its spread, the social impact of the Novel Coronavirus is hitting women hard.
Globally, women make up 70 per cent of workers in the health and social sector, and they do three times as much unpaid care work at home as men.
“The majority of health workers are women and that puts them at highest risk. Most of them are also parents and care givers to family members. They continue to carry the burden of care, which is already disproportionally high in normal times. This puts women under considerable stress,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.
“In addition, the majority of women work in the informal economy, where health insurance is likely to be non-existent or inadequate, and income is not secure. Because they are not well targeted for bail outs they are financially on their own. This is not simply a health issue for many women; it goes to the heart of gender equality.”
Recent experience of other disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola and Zika, have shown that such outbreaks divert resources away from services that women need, even as their burden of care increases and their paid livelihoods suffer losses.
For instance, when health services are overstretched, women’s access to pre- and post-natal health care and contraceptives dwindle. There are rising concerns of this happening as a result of COVID-19.
In addition, the specific needs of women health workers are often overlooked. “In Asia, emerging findings from the health response showed that menstrual hygiene products for women health workers were initially lacking as part of personal protective gear,” said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
When households are placed under strain and in contexts of family violence, as strategies for self-isolation and quarantine are employed, the risk of such violence tend to increase. Reports from some impacted communities are showing that COVID-19 is driving similar trends right now.
The evidence is also mounting that the economic impacts of COVID-19 will hit women harder, as more women work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are likely to compromise women’s ability to make a living and meet their families’ basic needs, as was seen in the Ebola crisis.
As more countries and areas enact closure of schools and childcare facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19, women’s ability to engage in paid work faces extra barriers.
Globally women continue to be paid 16 per cent less than men on average, and the pay gap rises to 35 per cent in some countries. In times of crisis like this, women often face the unfair and sometimes impossible choice of giving up paid work to care for children at home.
UN Women is working with WHO and other UN agencies to leverage existing networks of women-led organizations to advance women’s voice and decision-making in COVID-19 preparedness and response.
“Making sure that crisis and risk communication targets and reaches women, persons living with disabilities and marginalized groups, is critically important right now,” said Paivi Kaarina Kannisto, UN Women’s Chief of Peace and Security.
“In Liberia and Sierra Leone, UN Women’s community mobilization campaigns focused on disseminating messaging on Ebola prevention, case management and anti-stigmatization. Through awareness raising, community outreach and training, the programmes utilized local women speaking to other women via different media, including radio and text messaging. This helped to ensure that life-saving information shared was relatable and delivered by a trustworthy source.
The approach of integrating a gender-focused response that relied on local women’s networks had a significant impact on the successful regional containment of the Ebola crisis.”
UN Women has issued a set of recommendations, placing women’s needs and leadership at the heart of effective response to COVID-19:
Ensure availability of sex-disaggregated data, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Embed gender dimensions and gender experts within response plans and budget resources to build gender expertise into response teams.
Provide priority support to women on the frontlines of the response, for instance, by improving access to women-friendly personal protective equipment and menstrual hygiene products for healthcare workers and caregivers, and flexible working arrangements for women with a burden of care.
Ensure equal voice for women in decision making in the response and long-term impact planning. Ensure that public health messages properly target women including those most marginalized.
Develop mitigation strategies that specifically target the economic impact of the outbreak on women and build women’s resilience. Protect essential health services for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health services and prioritize services for prevention and response to gender-based violence in communities affected by COVID-19.
* Access more messages and resources from UN Women on COVID-19; Social media messages and assets from the United Nations system: COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement; The COVID-19 outbreak and gender: Key advocacy points from Asia and the Pacific; COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: How to incorporate women and gender equality in the management of the crisis response.
# COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement:
COVID-19 pandemic. (UNFPA)
The COVID-19 pandemic is straining public health systems, triggering unprecedented measures by governments around the world, including movement restrictions and shelter-in-place orders. Evidence from prior outbreaks shows that this crisis could exact a massive toll on women and girls.
Women are disproportionally represented in the health and social services sectors, increasing their risk of exposure to the disease. Stress, limited mobility and livelihood disruptions also increase women’s and girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence and exploitation. And if health systems redirect resources away from sexual and reproductive health services, women’s access to family planning, antenatal care and other critical services could suffer.
UNFPA is on the ground, distributing personal protective equipment for health workers and supporting health systems where needed. UNFPA is also supporting efforts to learn more about the virus and its impact to better serve the most vulnerable. “While fear and uncertainty are natural responses to the coronavirus, we must be guided by facts and solid information,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA’s Executive Director. “We must stand together in solidarity, fight stigma and discrimination, and ensure that people get the information and services they need.” :

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Progress towards gender equality is faltering
by UN Women, UNDP, agencies
Mar. 2020
Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, UN Women today launched its report, “Women´s Rights in Review 25 years after Beijing”, a comprehensive stock-take on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which remains the most comprehensive agenda for gender equality ever agreed.
The report finds that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed. Rampant inequality, the climate emergency, conflict and the alarming rise of exclusionary politics all threaten future progress towards gender equality.
The report flags the lack of effective action to boost women’s representation at the tables of power and warns that the vision of the Beijing Platform for Action will never be realized if the most excluded women and girls are not acknowledged and prioritized.
UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “The review of women’s rights shows that, despite some progress, no country has achieved gender equality. Equality isn’t just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power. But that’s the current reality of women’s representation, across the board.
Men are 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers. This is not an inclusive and equal world and we need to take action now to create one that does not discriminate against women. Only half is an equal share and only equal is enough”.
Despite unprecedented global challenges, the report also proves that positive change is possible, as shown by the success of women’s collective action to obtain accountability for crimes against them and the flourishing of feminist movements across the world.
The report showcases successful initiatives in scaling up public services to meet women’s rights, from increasing access to contraception and childcare, to reducing domestic violence and increasing women’s participation in politics and peacebuilding.
The report is based on the UN Secretary-General’s Report, which is the most comprehensive and participatory stock-taking exercise on women’s rights ever undertaken, with contributions from 170 Member States.
The report reveals that there have been advances in women’s and girls’ rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. There are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth and the proportion of women in parliaments has doubled across the world. Over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.
But progress has been far too slow and uneven:
Globally, progress on women’s access to paid work has ground to a halt over the past 20 years. Less than two thirds of women (62 per cent) aged 25-54 are in the labour force, compared to more than nine out of ten (93 per cent) men.
Women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work, and are on average paid 16 per cent less than men, rising to 35 per cent in some countries.
Nearly one in five women (18 per cent) have faced violence from an intimate partner in the past year. New technologies are fueling new forms of violence, such as cyber-harassment, for which policy solutions are largely absent. Tens of million girls are still not in school. Men still control three quarters of parliamentary seats. Women are largely excluded from peace processes, representing only 13 per cent of negotiators and only 4 per cent of signatories.
To catalyze systemic and lasting change the report points to the need to vastly increase financing for gender equality, to harness the potential of technology and innovation and ensure that development is inclusive of women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination.
Mar. 2020
Almost 90% of people are biased against women, according to a new index that highlights the “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality.
Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.
The first gender social norm index analysed data from 75 countries that, collectively, are home to more than 80% of the global population. It found that almost half of people feel men are superior political leaders and more than 40% believe men make better business executives. Almost a third of men and women think it’s acceptable for a man to beat his wife.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), which published its findings this week, is calling on governments to introduce legislation and policies that address engrained prejudice.
“We all know we live in a male-dominated world, but with this report we are able to put some numbers behind these biases,” said Pedro Conceicao, director of the UNDP’s human development report office. “And the numbers, I consider them shocking.
“What our report shows is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. Big progress in more basic areas of participation and empowerment. But when we get to more empowering areas, we seem to be hitting a wall.”
Conceicao said the data show that perceptions and expectations in society about the role of women are prejudiced against them.
“While in many countries these biases are shrinking, in many others the biases are actually sliding back. If you take the overall average of the information we have, we show that on average we are sliding back – that biases, instead of shrinking, are growing back.”
The figures are based on two sets of data collected from almost 100 countries through the World Values Survey, which examines changing attitudes in almost 100 countries and how they impact on social and political life. The figures cover periods from 2005-09 and 2010-2014, the latest year for which there is data.
Of the 75 countries studied, there were only six in which the majority of people held no bias towards women. But while more than 50% of people in Andorra, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden were free from gender prejudice, even here the pattern was not one of unmitigated progress.
Sweden, for example, was one of several countries – including South Africa, India, Rwanda and Brazil – in which the percentage of people who held at least one bias increased over the nine years the data covered. More than half of people in the UK and the US held at least one bias.
“UNDP is very conscious of the backlash against women’s rights. We are aware and we are concerned, so we think the report … is an answer to push back the pushback,” said Raquel Lagunas, acting director of UNDP’s gender team. “We cannot pick and choose, saying: ‘These human rights are for women, and these ones are not.’”
Lagunas said it was difficult to predict whether attitudes have changed more recently, but suggested the report’s findings “may make the road ahead more difficult”.
“We can see big progress in the next five years [in some countries] and still at the same time see pushback in other countries,” she said.
“We need to invest and double efforts to address the hardcore areas of power – political power, economic power – and we think, we hope, this publication is going to have impact in the countries we [UNDP] work, and open conversations with governments, because gender equality is a choice.”
The report comes as rights campaigners call on world leaders to accelerate action to meet global targets on gender equality.
“As representatives of leading organisations championing gender equality, we’re raising the alarm about the pace of progress. There is no time left for business as usual: gender equality can be achieved for billions of girls and women by 2030, but it requires everyone to move faster,” read an open letter, signed by nine presidents and CEOs of organisations including Plan International, Women Deliver, the One Campaign and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’ve found that, if the current pace continues, 67 countries – home to 2.1 billion girls and women – will not achieve any of the key gender equality targets we studied by 2030.”
These countries are not just the poorest. If trends over the past two decades continue, the US will be among them.
In June, a gender index published by the Equal Measures 2030 partnership found that no country was on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, the deadline to achieve the UN sustainable development goals.

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