Women’s role in economic development amid COVID-19

The International Women’s Day, celebrated on Monday, March 8, called to action the appreciation of women’s value in society to promote gender equality. CHRISTIANA UNAKALAMBA takes a look at the effect of COVID-19 on gender issues and women’s contribution to economic development

In preparation for this year’s International Women’s Day, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, had stated that the Coronavirus Disease widened the gender gap existent in the economy, with women still hugely under-represented.

It said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing inequalities in our society. It put women at a great risk, including at times in their own homes.”

So, it suggested that gender equality must be at the heart of the post-pandemic recovery.

“Women must also be better represented in leadership positions, be it in politics or on companies’ boards – we will continue to fight for it.

“While women make up the majority of frontline workers in healthcare, they were barely represented in the pandemic decision-making processes. For instance, of the national dedicated COVID-19 task forces in 87 countries, including 17 EU member states, 85.2 per cent were led by men,” it stated.

Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Winnie Byanyima, noted, “Up to 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could end up out of school following the crisis. Many may never go back to school or have access to skills and economic opportunities, and will be at greater risk of violence, poor health, poverty and more.

“Two and a half million more girls are now at risk of child marriage in the next five years. There has been a dramatic increase in violence against women.”

According to her, pandemics such as COVID-19 magnify the fissures in society and exacerbate vulnerabilities.

“Gender-based and intersecting inequalities and violence hold back the lives of women and girls all over the world. The pandemic has brought into sharp and painful focus that, even before COVID-19, an estimated 34 million girls between the ages of 12 and 14 years were out of school, one in three women globally reported having experienced physical or sexual violence and women the world over worked longer hours for less or no pay,” she said.

Lead author of UN Women’s latest report, ‘From Insights to Action’ and UN Women’s Senior Research and Data Specialist, Ginette Azcona, noted, “For the last 22 years, extreme poverty globally had been declining. Then came COVID-19, and with it, massive job losses, shrinking of economies and loss of livelihoods, particularly for women. Weakened social protection systems have left many of the poorest in the society unprotected, with no safeguards to weather the storm.”

Speaking to CBS News about IWD, renowned feminist and journalist, Gloria Steinem, stated, “Studies show that women have suffered more anxiety, depression and trauma during this pandemic, because we have more responsibility for others and are brought up to be more empathetic.

“On the other hand, men have been more at home with families this year; so let’s hope this narrows the empathy gap.”

Despite the effect of the pandemic on contributions of women to the economy and society, there is need for women to play active roles to recover from the effect of the pandemic.

On this year’s IWD theme, ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal Future in a COVID-19 World,’ the United Nations Development Project stated, “Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as countries respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – choices that will affect the wellbeing of people and the planet for generations to come. To do this, we must break down the deep-seated historic, cultural and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed.

“For instance, across the world, women remain concentrated in the lowest paid jobs, many in extremely vulnerable forms of employment. Women are nearly twice as likely than men to lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.”

This entails more feminine gender inclusion and active participation irrespective of COVID-19 or societal influences, which can be achieved through deeper involvement in the economy.

According to the Managing Director, Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank, Mari Pangestu, trade can expand women’s role in the economy and decrease disparities with men by giving women more and better employment opportunities.

“Seizing these opportunities will be even more important in a post-COVID-19 world,” the Indonesian economist added.

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