If one thinks about the correlation between Covid-19 and gender equality; they might argue that Covid-19 is a health crisis that the world is going through, whereas gender equality is a social movement. Fair enough! However, the pandemic has affected men and women in different ways. Studies have shown that the pandemic has been more severe on women and children than it has on men. According to a report by Mckinsey & Co., women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women makeup 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. This goes to show that the pandemic is definitely having a regressive effect on gender equality.
The need for a gender-sensitive response
Previous outbreaks such as Ebola in 2014, Zika virus in 2015-2016, SARS, MERS have all had a severe negative effect on gender equality. The Covid-19 pandemic has been no different, although its effects are still yet to be fully determined. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) has shared with the International Gender Champions network his view that “The response to the COVID-19 pandemic must be gender-sensitive and responsive. Not only are women and children some of the most fragile population groups whose needs can be overlooked in health emergencies, but 70% of the health workforce caring for those affected is also made up of women. WHO is committed to using a gender lens to continuously evaluate and improve our response efforts. ”
Even pre-pandemic, the gender equality movement hadn’t gathered a lot of steam. The Covid-19 crisis has further exposed the cracks and deepened the inequalities between the two genders. Most nations have failed to provide equal access to healthcare and social protection to women. This has put women with informal jobs, young mothers, low-income families, and the youth at great discomfort . The rise in domestic violence and sexual abuse too has further deepened the gender equality crisis.
Slow and unstable progress
According to a report by Mckinsey & Co., progress towards equality in work and society has stayed relatively flat in the five years between 2014 and 2019. In 2014, the global GPS (Gender Parity Score) score was 0.60; today, it is 0.61 (on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 signifies full parity between women and men). Gender equality in work continues to lag behind gender equality in society, with a GPS of 0.52 versus 0.67, respectively. The participation of women in the labor force too has remained flat from 2014-2019 . Acting as a glimmer of hope, maternal mortality and the participation of women in professional, technical, and political jobs has seen a considerable increase.
But why is it so important?
Gender equality is something that everyone can benefit from and is one of the main reasons it has been nominated by the United Nations as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). If you think gender equality is just about providing women and men equal opportunities for the sake of it, think again. Gender equality is crucial for a perfect and peaceful society. An equitable society forms the basis for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.
Below are 4 reasons why we as a collective, need to come together to ensure equality.
1. Equality for economic development - Sustainable economic development requires providing equal opportunities to both genders. UN Women reported that in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, half of the economic growth over the past 50 years is attributed to girls having better access to education . Nations with the right gender balance have shown tremendous economic growth over the past years. In OECD countries, if the female employment rates were raised to match Sweden, it would lead to a GDP increase equivalent to $6 trillion. Clearly, this shows the GDP impact gender inequality has on countries.
2. Poverty elimination - UN opines that educating women can go a long way in reducing infant mortality rates. In fact, educated women are more likely to take up jobs and earn an income for themselves. This is a great step towards poverty elimination as women end up spending 90% of their earnings in their family versus men who just spend 35% of their income. This improves children’s health and eliminates the continuous cycle of chronic hunger. When women don’t work, economies stop flourishing and the endless poverty cycle continues.
3. Companies stand to gain - According to research by Mckinsey in 2020 on more than 1,000 large companies in 15 countries, it was found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Companies in the top quartile of ethnic and cultural diversity were 36 percent more likely to outperform on profitability. These figures clearly go on to show how important it is for companies to ensure the right gender balance. However, given the challenges arising as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, any dissolving of the gender balance can slow down business recovery and compromise on business performance. Gender equality shouldn’t take a back seat during these times, rather it should be a strategic priority.
4. Reduction in domestic violence and sexual harassment - Worldwide, 35 percent of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. With education and employment, girls are set to marry later and avoid child marriage. This makes women a little less vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation. The right education also makes women aware of their rights and the legal options they have to tackle violence and exploitation.
Despite all the above benefits that gender equality has, we still seem to be moving at a snail’s place in achieving gender equality. When it comes to bringing change within our societies, we are reluctant and often wait for someone else to take the first step. We are also accustomed to a way of life since the start and are not ready to embrace change for the global good. Many of us are still not aware of how we can promote and come together for the establishment of a gender-equal society.