Governments around the world are ignoring women in their Covid-19 recovery plans, despite the fact that women have been worst hit by the pandemic’s fall-out, according to a key UN figure.
This risks women being unable to get back on their feet for “many years to come”, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women who made history when she became South Africa’s first female deputy president in 2005.
The wider impact of Covid-19 on women has been stark, from the fact that two-thirds of the jobs lost have belonged to women to the “plague” of domestic violence. Women are also in many countries disproportionately on the frontline, working in the sectors most at risk.
“It does mean that for many years to come, where we would have seen women progressing and moving forward, you instead have women not getting back on their feet fast enough - or at all in some cases,” said Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka told the Telegraph.
She added that she is particularly concerned that women are being pushed out of the labor market, especially as few relief measures address the informal economy, such as domestic cleaners, nannies, and market traders - which is dominated by women.
“Two-thirds of jobs lost have been jobs that belong to women… we know that the industries that are hit by the pandemic are the industries where women are highly concentrated,” she said, speaking over Zoom from her home in Johannesburg.
Yet, added Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, a lack of female representation within Covid-19 response teams specifically, and within governments more broadly, has exacerbated already extensive repercussions of the pandemic for women.
“Of 87 countries that we surveyed, only 3.5 percent have task forces with 50 percent women. The rest of the countries have task forces in which women are a minority… this is unacceptable.
“It means that often you will not have gender-responsive policies,” she said. “So we just chip at the benefits that could otherwise help women at every corner, as we don’t have someone looking out for them.”
Her comments come after a damning report from MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee last week, which found the UK’s policies have been “repeatedly skewed towards men” and “failed to consider” the labor market and caring inequalities faced by women.
On Monday a coalition of organizations - including Amnesty International, the Fawcett Society and Save the Children - were among two dozen signatories of a letter urging the UK’s equality watchdog to investigate claims ministers have sidelined key gender laws during their pandemic response.
“This is a time of crisis for women,” the letter stated. “The policy decisions taken by the government and other key public bodies in response to coronavirus are worsening the impact of the pandemic and deepening inequalities faced by women.
“The consequences of these decisions will affect women for years to come.”
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, warned that worldwide, too, “we’re not seeing enough of the interventions that enable women”.
A mounting body of evidence has laid bare the dramatic economic repercussions of the pandemic on women, as coronavirus has exposed and entrenched existing inequalities - and turning the clock back on decades of progress towards gender equality.
Most recently, an International Labour Organization report found that employment losses for women stands at five percent, compared to 3.9 percent for men.
Among those aged 15-25, this figure rockets to 8.7 percent - Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said there are growing risks that the pandemic will create a “lost generation”.
But she warned that, even before the pandemic hit, progress towards gender equality was lagging well behind the goals laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals - a set of 17 targets agreed by UN member states which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people can “enjoy peace and prosperity” by 2030.
In particular, efforts to get more women into the highest political echelons have been “frustratingly slow”. According to analysis from UN Women earlier this month, at the current rate, it will take another 130 years to reach global gender parity in government.
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