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Action is required

Gender and COVID-19 Working Group Call to Action was birthed in a collaborative process. Subsequently, organizers of the conference organized a webinar, ‘A Call to Action: Gender and COVID-19 Working Group’ to discuss it with a wider group of people. The speakers of the webinar focused on the actions needed to implement change in different contexts. Lynda Keeru attended the webinar and reports back.

It is of great importance for policy makers and all stakeholders to take up the demands that have been raised over this very difficult time of the pandemic and start to act.

The Gender and COVID-19 Working Group is made up of about 675 health practitioners, policy makers, researchers and advocates from all over the world who share their resources and expertise on topics related to gender equity, women’s empowerment and rights. Their Call to Action addresses the  disproportionate negative impacts on women and girls throughout the pandemic and the consequent lockdowns put in place to contain the virus.

In the webinar it was noted there were similar recommendations and strategies from all the health, health systems and livelihoods and the care economy, government and policy pillars. All the pillars emphasized the importance of disaggregated data, investment in care infrastructure and the global care economy, support for policy and advocacy work led by women or marginalized groups and their organizations and true gender transformative leadership

None of the above strategies and recommendations are new and all that is needed is ACTION!! The Call to Action articulates and reemphasizes demands made many times before and throughout the pandemic. In many instances, there’s already infrastructure in place that will help realize the recommendations.

Four key strategies for gender responsive recovery and action were identified:

  1. To ensure diverse and gender transformative leadership in the COVID-19 response and recovery. This means that there is need for representation of women and marginalized groups and all aspects of the pandemic response and recovery including as leaders. We must respond to and challenge stereotypes in global analysis to provide fair representation in these recovery plans.
  2. A focus on a mixed method multisectoral and disaggregated data. Research must include women, girls and non-binary people. Men and boys too must be included to more adequately illustrate the effects of COVID-19. Attendees really stressed the need to take time to collect and analyse data of people’s lived experiences. This data needs to be of good quality.
  3. Address the needs of all women workers, paid and unpaid. There’s a continued need for policies that protect and support woman and promote decent work opportunities and dignity for all. Attention must be paid to women’s distinctive and intersecting identities. We must prioritize health care workers and care workers and invest in keeping them safe.
  4. Invest in strengthening supportive policies and the care economy to ensure programs to support entry and re-entry into the workforce for women. This is particularly important for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. It was quite often due to the increased need of family care giving. We need to recognize and support the unpaid contributions that women make in caregiving. 

Political contexts must be taken into account when conducting research and developing programs. Intersectional approaches which are called for, help people to understand the differentiated nature of vulnerability and resilience. It also emphasizes the nature of power relations and how individuals and groups experience both power and oppression simultaneously.

We can no longer treat men or women as homogenous groups. There must a clear understanding of their individual intersecting vulnerabilities. Their differential health needs and risks must be identified among the different groups and addressed appropriately in policy measures. Among people living with disabilities, women and girls face systemic barriers to equality and inclusion with limited visibility.

The Sustainable Development Goals are universal which means that Universal Health Coverage applies as much to developed countries as it does to developing nations. The pandemic exposed deep inequalities not just between countries, but also within countries. In many contexts, lower status jobs tend to be more frontline in these contexts and there is less healthcare, which means that people have to pay for it.

A policy brief by ILO, Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, that provides an outlook of where women stand in in the labour market after the COVID-19 pandemic, stated that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels by the same time. The job losses are attributed to lockdowns with the informal economy adversely affected. Lack of gender recovery is attributed to excessive time spent by women in unpaid care work, poor social protection or none at all and an upsurge in violence and harassment which have made it difficult for women to keep their jobs in comparison to men. The aforementioned show the gender and intersectional vulnerabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic. To change this, social policies should be changed and most importantly, all women recognized as workers.

Independence, stability and safety are most crucial for women within those intersections. All these can only be achieved through participation, political action, decision making and emphasis on proper implementation. The COVID-19 pandemic among other things taught the importance of promoting gender equity.

When policies are not sensitive to the intersectional nature of violence and other women’s’ issues, they deepen the vulnerability of already marginalized people by limiting their access to support and justice. In some cases, policies are reactive to issues, rather than being proactive. The pandemic has shown that a human rights agenda needs to be mainstreamed.

Finally, a gender perspective must be incorporated in all levels of policy processes. Revenues and expenditures should be restructured to promote gender equality and the specifically gendered effects of the pandemic should be addressed. Women must be put at the center of policy change and solutions.