Women are being squeezed by the pandemic. Here's how to fix it

Wednesday, 30 June 2021 11:08 GMT

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students Andrea Ramos, 10, and Alexander Ramos, 8, work on school-issued computers with unreliable internet connectivity, as their mother Anely Solis, 32, and their brother Enrique Ramos, 5, look on, during the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at their home in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

To those attending the historic Paris gender forum we have a simple message: close the gender gap to build a better post-pandemic future

María Fernanda Espinosa is the President of the 73rd UN General Assembly and former Foreign Minister of Ecuador, and Nicolette Naylor is the International Program Director for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice at The Ford Foundation.

An international conference opens in Paris on Wednesday with a simple but elusive goal: build a gender equal world.

The biggest global summit of its kind in decades, it brings together governments, the UN, civil society, multilateral organisations, and the private sector to mobilise millions of dollars of investment in achieving gender parity.

Will it work?

Over the past year we have heard a lot about ‘Building Back Better.’ If we are ever going to truly achieve this goal, we have to address one of the greatest structural inequalities of history – the treatment of women and girls.

Global inequality had pushed us to a precipice well before 2020. But through the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals suffer some of the virus’s worst devastation.

Before the pandemic, women spent triple the amount of time as men performing unpaid care and domestic work. Their social production continues to subsidise the entire economy. Shockingly, the gender gap in labour force participation has not shifted in 30 years.

Today the situation is getting worse. Studies show that COVID-19 has intensified women’s workloads at home, and nearly half of all women with children at home say they spend more than five hours each day in childcare. Many women are being forced out of the labour market to manage care responsibilities. An estimated 47 million more women will fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

We must do more to address the social ills of our world, especially those that disproportionately impact women. So far, despite the many great examples of progress around the globe, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality.

Those attending the UN Generation Equality Forum in Paris should focus their energy on key battle sites for gender equality:

Firstly, addressing the terrifying global “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence (GBV) and femicide, which has seen an alarming increase in many countries during multiple lock-downs, leaving women at the mercy of their abusers.

Now, with healthcare systems buckling amidst a third wave of COVID-19, we continue to hear desperate pleas from women for resources not to be diverted away from support for violence survivors.

The global community, funders and governments around the world must pay attention to and meaningfully track the increasing rates of gender-based violence and femicide. They must support and resource the women’s rights organizations that have had to step in and support survivors during this time.  These organizations remain severely under-resourced. We are calling for a doubling of national and international funding to women’s rights organizations, activists and movements working to address GBV. 

Secondly, driving economic justice for women. This means a renewed focus on the care economy. The only way we can achieve this is by making visible the paid and unpaid contributions of women, particularly those on the margins of society, and establishing a broad-based global movement for care, that includes paid leave, childcare and early education, long-term services, support for older adults and people with disabilities, and high-quality jobs for all care workers.

Finally, investing in women’s rights, girl-led organizations and feminist movements to be part of global governance processes, such as Generation Equality, because we have seen the power of the next generation of young feminist leaders come to the fore -- ready to step in with fresh ideas on how to build back better in ways that are fundamentally shifting power and creating more inclusive spaces.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the enduring structural inequalities that threaten an equitable recovery for all. We need every country and every organisation to embrace the opportunity for change and to support the next generation of feminist leaders.

Achieving consensus across the board will not be easy but our joint experience – from driving change across the UN to building new multi-stakeholder  partnerships – demonstrates clearly that these are realistic and achievable goals.