by Isa Martinez
(Part 2 of 3)
With vaccines in one hand and economic incentives in the other, the world takes its first steps to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind it. As efforts to curb the disease’s rampage start to spread, a new challenge presents itself: ensuring recovery for sectors beyond healthcare.
It’s not just vaccines that need to be administered to the entire population: multiple keys to recovery must become accessible to all. To move forward from COVID-19, we need to make recoveries in the social and economic world.
COVID-19’s rampage wreaks an uneven havoc. Women bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s ill effects must also lead the charge against the deadly disease, with little to no protection offered by institutions.
Unless we can guarantee immunity and protection for all, the dangers posed by COVID-19 will weave themselves into the social fabric, making them impossible to untangle even after all patients are cured.
According to data by McKinsey, the “gender-regressive” scenario worsened by the pandemic could cost us $1 trillion in lost global GDP growth by 2030 if women’s unemployment matched that of men. The figure, notes McKinsey, doesn’t even account for women’s increased childcare burden, reduced education and childcare services, and other labor market inequalities.
However, a once-in-a-century pandemic provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay down the groundwork for an equitable future: taking action to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030. Three paths present themselves: act now, act after the health crisis, or do nothing at all.
Policy advisory bodies including UN Women, UNICEF, McKinsey, and the World Bank highlight the same five crucial sectors: sexual and reproductive health, economic support, social protection, violence and abuse response measures, and gender-focused research.
Governments must prioritize access to sexual and reproductive health services and improve their strategies for arresting and preventing violence and abuse to ensure women’s continued presence in society.
Pandemics only intensify existing violence and discrimination, and make access to key services more difficult. Urgent and flexible funding for women’s safety and health must be provided, lest we lose the demographic that makes up 70% of all healthcare personnel.
Increasing childcare burdens, severe domestic abuse, and lack of education and skills training could force women to drop out of the labor force.
Even before COVID-19, women lived on a precarious economic security. Once the pandemic broke out, inequalities have only worsened. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more likely to be cut than men’s. Women make up 39% of the employed workforce, but account for 54% of job losses.
Private and public institutions alike must make targeted efforts to improve access to land, financial capital and other assets. Otherwise, the key services only women provide will continue its rapid deterioration.
Women-owned businesses must receive priority in grants and stimulus funding targeted specifically to them. Governments and companies must also provide measures to guarantee the health, safety and incomes of vulnerable female workers.
However, women are also indispensable outside the workforce. They make up the majority of those handling childcare and homemaking responsibilities, and remain completely uncompensated for these tasks. Better incentive schemes can account for this unpaid labor, as well as improved access to basic utilities. With access to safe water, sanitation, and similar rights, women’s unpaid work will be greatly reduced.
The impacts of crises are never gender neutral. Unless they are studied and responded to as such, inequality will continue. Therefore, the effects of COVID-19 must be addressed in a way that simultaneously improves gender parity.
Should we act now, we will find ourselves face to face with an opportunity, not a crisis. Trillions of dollars and billions of lives could be saved. However, the longer we wait to take action, the more we stand to lose – we begin to pay a price for our tardy responses. Gains that we could make will shrink – we could stand to lose $5.4 trillion in global GDP gains if we only act after the healthcare crisis.
As in all calamities, the worst choice is to do nothing. The disease of a gender-regressive system cannot be solved with a vaccine. Individuals, along with public and private bodies, must all act to guarantee women’s equality in work, along with their access to essential services, economic opportunity, legal protection and physical security. Unless we can ensure the survival and continued participation of women in society, the whole world, regardless of sex, will be unprepared to face the threats of the next century.