The author is CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact
“The road to economic recovery should not be on the backs of womenState three counties in the state of Hawaii that have approved a feminist economic recovery plan for Covid-19 – a first for America and the world.
The Hawaiian plan promises to correct what most governments have chosen to ignore: that this pandemic has been much harder on women than it is on men. The virus has exposed gender gaps in multiple ways. Women are 1.8 times more likely than men to have lost their jobs or livelihoods during the crisis. Their unpaid work, including caring for children and elderly family members, increased dramatically during times of confinement. Reports of domestic violence are on the rise. And women are at a higher risk of exposure to the virus: they understand 70 percent of the world’s healthcare workers, as well as the majority of teachers, cleaners, store workers, garment workers and market vendors.
The philanthropist Melinda Gates puts the cost of gender inequality in the billions of dollars and urges governments to tackle this impact. “As policy makers work to protect and rebuild economies, their response must take into account the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women,” she says.
Some countries have introduced gender policies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. In West Africa, many governments waived utility bills during the first months of the crisis, when strict lockdowns prevented families, but especially female heads of households, from working. Last month, Canada set up C $ 100 million ($ 80 million) Feminist Intervention and Recovery Fund fund projects that tackle domestic violence, promote women’s economic security and prepare them for leadership roles. Argentina plans to spend 3.4% of its gross domestic product when it first “Gender sensitive” public expenditure program.
Such policies should become the norm rather than the exception. A feminist stimulus plan guides public spending and policies to support women and families. In Hawaii, that means embracing a universal basic income, free universal child care, and long-term care for the elderly, with fair wages for those in the industry. The state will prioritize the needs of women by providing federal grants to invest in new child care, education and health facilities.
Even before the pandemic, progress towards gender equality was unacceptably slow. According to the World Economic Forum 2020 Gender gap report, it will take 257 years achieve economic gender parity. The real concern now is that the global gender gap is widening. Discrimination based on gender is often hidden in the fine print. For example, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller than men’s, making them ineligible for public procurement programs. This could be addressed by ensuring that women business owners receive at least 30% of all recovery and rescue funds.
Businesses must also take a more active role in ending gender discrimination. In the decade since the launch of the Women’s Empowerment Principles by UN Women and the UN Global Compact, more than 4000 CEOs are committed to promoting gender equality. But significant progress will not come without measurable goals for closing the gender gap at work.
The target of the United Nations Global Compact Gender Equality Initiative has helped over 300 companies in 19 countries set and achieve ambitious goals for women’s representation and leadership. This year, we are expanding the initiative to 45 countries and a live event on March 16, we explore how the private sector can be mobilized to support equal representation and leadership for women.
Businesses can also help by encouraging the sharing of household and family responsibilities through equal parental leave, workplace day care and flexible working. Many have already recognized the burden of additional care on working women during the pandemic and have taken steps to adjust the workload. Perhaps the experience of working remotely will lead to more flexible arrangements for all employees.
Companies that claim to empower women and girls should explain how this relates to their larger business strategy. They should also explain their goals and how they will follow accountability. Finally, their leadership and board of directors should reflect this commitment.
This is important because gender equality is everyone’s business. We all benefit when women have equal access to education, work, credit, promotion and government funding. To rebuild better, we need to do it in a more inclusive way and try to create a world in which the value of men and women matters equally.