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Women ‘systematically excluded’ from COVID response, despite being worst affected 

Women have suffered the worst impacts of COVID not only on the frontlines of healthcare, but also through the loss of jobs as the informal economy shrinks; an alarming spike in domestic violence; and the unpaid care burden that threatens to push 47 million additional women into extreme poverty, said a report published on Monday by UN Women, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Gender Inequality Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. 

The data reveals that of 225 COVID-19 task forces up and running across 137 countries, only 24 per cent of members were women. 

“Women have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response…however, they have been systematically excluded from the decision-making processes on how to address the impacts of the pandemic”, said UNDP chief Achim Steiner. 

Citing “eye-opening new data”, he underscored: “Women’s full and inclusive participation in public institutions is critical to ensure their needs are adequately addressed in the pivotal decisions now being made – these are choices that will determine their futures for generations to come”. 

Gender lens needed 

For an effective COVID-19 response, policies and programmes must include a “gender lens”, the UN agencies said. 

Without women in decision-making roles, government measures are more likely to ignore women’s needs and could further exacerbate an unequal recovery that is already threatening to reverse decades of progress on gender equality.  

Against the backdrop that 32 countries have registered  gender-sensitive pandemic recovery measures, UNDP and UN Women have urged governments to safeguard women’s equal participation in the COVID-19 response along with equal decision-making powers and leadership opportunities.  

“It is inconceivable that we can address the most discriminatory crisis we have ever experienced without full engagement of women”, said UN Women chief Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.  

“At the moment, men have given themselves the impossible task of making the right decisions about women without the benefit of women’s insights. This needs to be set right without delay so we can work together on a future that is equitable, gender-responsive and greener”, she added. 

Economic recovery gaps 

The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker tool, which analyses government pandemic policies, has pinpointed gaps in economic recovery processes that have  excluded women-specific needs. 

It flagged that as of March 2021, only 13 per cent of the 2,280 COVID-19 fiscal, social protection, and labour market measures have targeted women’s economic security.  

And measures that have been taken – from cash transfers and food aid targeting or prioritising women – have often been small scale and temporary. 

For example, one year into the pandemic, most of the cash transfer schemes lasted only 3.3 months, on average.  

The UN agencies stressed that fiscal packages must include “long-term specific measures to boost women’s recovery”. 

Expand services 

Governments’ gender-related COVID-19 efforts continue to focus mostly on the uptick of violence against women and girls during the pandemic, according to Tracker data – with some 64 per cent concentrating on preventing or responding with helplines, shelters and judicial actions. 

While this is a positive first step, only a third of countries with available data have treated violence against women and girls-related services as an integral part of their national and local pandemic response plans, the UN agencies noted.

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