As the G20 works to address the economic fallout of COVID-19, the women of the world are ready for governments to bring long-needed change through strong fiscal stimulus packages, comprehensive social protection plans and real action on ending gender violence
With markets destabilised, supply chains disrupted, businesses forced to close or scale back operations, and millions without jobs and livelihoods, the economic and social effects of COVID-19 are likely to reverberate for years. However, although women are especially affected, losing their jobs and incomes at an alarming rate, they are also key to a rapid and sustainable recovery. Analysis and intentional response through targeted gender-responsive investments, economic stimulus packages and recovery plans are fundamental strategies for sustainable recovery, with women front and centre.
The potential consequences of inaction – or wrongly prioritised action – will affect poverty everywhere. Already the pandemic threatens to erase decades of progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. By next year, an additional 47 million women and girls will likely have been pushed into extreme poverty, reaching a total of 435 million women and girls living on less than $1.90 a day, while gender gaps in extreme poverty will widen. By 2030, there could be 121 women in poverty for every 100 poor men globally, with the worst affected being young women aged 25 to 34 – the age when many are raising families.
Women’s unpaid care in families and communities has been taken for granted for too long. In some countries, women do 11 times more such work than men. This ‘invisible’ work contributes at least $10.8 trillion a year to the global economy. Societies and economies depend on it. During the pandemic, women continue to bridge the gap where schools, childcare and other services are shut down or scaled back, and bear the brunt of lost or reduced paid work.
The global recession has increased unemployment, financial strain and insecurity. The associated loss of income makes it even harder for women to escape abusive relationships at a time when intimate partner violence is clearly rising.
How to improve circumstances
But this negative slide is not inevitable. G20 leaders at their Riyadh Summit can step up urgently with dedicated measures to contain the damage, provide appropriate services and, crucially, drive inclusive decision-making and governance that ensure women’s active participation and leadership.
Many governments have already taken unprecedented measures, strengthening access to health care, rolling out cash transfers, and providing paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. However, although some of these measures will benefit women, few are being designed or implemented specifically with their rights or needs in mind. In fact, as the UNDP/UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker shows, only 18% of the global social protection and jobs response to date has been gender-sensitive, either targeting women’s economic security or addressing the rise in unpaid care work.
There are notable exceptions. Argentina introduced far-reaching social protection measures, raising the monthly amount of pre-existing cash transfer programmes that prioritise women and extending paid leave to vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers. Egypt, Georgia, Morocco and Togo have launched new emergency measures to support women entrepreneurs and informal traders with cash transfers, grants and subsidised credits. Australia and Costa Rica ensured that childcare services remained open during lockdown to support essential and other workers with young children. Overall, however, the response remains woefully inadequate, particularly in low-income countries where fiscal space is limited.
It is urgent to embed gender equality and women’s empowerment more firmly in plans for long-term recovery and transformation, to build in ways that are both environmentally and socially sustainable. This includes putting gender equality at the centre of transitions towards more sustainable consumption and production, ensuring we grow the right sectors and support women to take advantage of the job opportunities they offer. It also includes expanding gender-responsive social protection systems, including to the 740 million women informal workers – small-scale farmers, market traders and domestic workers – too poor to make regular social security contributions, but not considered poor enough for social assistance.
Investing in the care economy
Finally, we need sustained investments in the care economy. As countries seek economic recovery and transformation, there is huge potential to create quality care jobs – in health, education and social care – that both nurture the next generation and are the ultimate ‘green jobs’. Child and elder care services can help women access quality paid employment. Furthermore, ensuring a well-trained and remunerated health workforce is a critical part of responding to COVID-19 and to building future resilience to health pandemics.
The women of the world are more than ready for their governments to bring change through strong fiscal stimulus packages, comprehensive social protection plans, and real action on ending violence against women and girls. We urge G20 leaders to rebuild better, creating sustainable economies and reducing inequalities. Through collective response we can advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, by investing in sustainable and inclusive economies and by guaranteeing women’s rights, livelihoods and resilience.