Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, has said the COVID-19 pandemic, is not just a health issue but economic destabilizer.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is also the UN Women Executive Director, said it is a profound shock to our societies and economies, exposing the deficiencies of public and private arrangements that currently function only if women play multiple and underpaid roles.
She said as stock markets tumble, schools and universities close, people stockpile supplies and home becomes a different and crowded space it has moved beyond health to impact on the social-economic lives of society.
“With children out of school, mothers at home may still work, but many have also become teachers and caregivers, with consequences for those previously employed in those roles,” she noted.
The UN Women Executive Director in a document obtained by the Ghana News Agency on Wednesday, however, applauded the efforts of governments who are taking extraordinary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
She expressed concern that for the 8.5 million women migrant domestic workers, often on insecure contracts, income loss also affects their dependents back at home.
She said professional women are also going through the dilemma of needing to return to the office but are having to forgo that to enable their higher-earning partners to continue work.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka called for data disaggregation; “We need far more sex-disaggregated data to tell us how the situation is evolving, including on differing rates of infection, differential economic impacts, differential care burden, and incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse”.
The UN Executive Director said even without current data, experience from previous major epidemics points us to specific strengths and vulnerabilities that we can look out for and be proactive to safeguard.
“Where governments or businesses put income protection in place, this can ease these dilemmas, sustain incomes and avoid driving households into poverty,” she noted.
She said the response must also include those in the informal economy, where most women who work outside home make their livelihood. Such social protection is best directed specifically to women.
The UN Women Executive Director said this is a moment for governments to recognize both the enormity of the contribution women make and what they undergo.
She said globally, women make up 70 per cent of frontline workers in the health and social sector, like nurses, midwives, cleaners and laundry workers.
“We need mitigation strategies that specifically target both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak on women and that support must also aim at building women’s resilience,” she said.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said women should be fully engaged in their creation, be priority recipients of aid, and partners in building the longer-term solutions.
She said creating better access to appropriate personal protective equipment for home-based caregivers, and removing obstacles to their work, by promoting flexible working arrangements, and ensuring supplies of menstrual hygiene products. “These needs are even more important for areas under lockdown or quarantine”.
The UN Women Executive Director said, COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity for radical, positive action to redress long-standing inequalities in multiple areas of women’s lives.
“I ask governments and all other service providers including the private sector to take this opportunity to plan their response to COVID-19 as they have never done before, and fully take a gender perspective into account, proactively building gender expertise into response teams and embedding gender dimensions within response plans,” she said.
“All of this needs funding; organizations responding to COVID-19 need budgeted resources for gender and social inclusion and I urge donors to include this in their support, viewing this as a constant, strongly positive element to include in development budgets and enhancing rather than cutting support to gender equality measures.
“Organizations serving women need assistance to bolster their response and to prepare for the recovery. This needs resources that many organizations lack.
“We appeal to funders to enhance their support for women rather than take an austerity approach. A global, coordinated response of the magnitude that followed the financial crisis is needed, constructed with a gender lens, and fully inclusive,” she said.
Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said this is a time of reckoning for our national and personal values and a recognition of the strength of solidarity for public services and society as a whole.
“This is an opportunity to build back better, stronger, resilient and equal societies. It is a time for bold prioritization. Taking the right steps now with an eye to a restored future could bring both relief and hope to the women of the world,” she said.