Gender equality experts recommend key actions for COVID-19 response and recovery for G7 leaders

New York: As the pandemic is moving beyond a global health crisis and morphing into a labour market, social and economic crisis, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and European Commission Head of Service for Foreign Policy Instruments Hilde Hardeman, and International Labour Organization (ILO) Deputy Director-General for Policy Deborah Greenfield today convened Ministers, CEOs, and business associations, trade unions, civil society and academia representatives at the High-Level Roundtable, “The G7’s role in ensuring women’s economic empowerment and security in the post-COVID future”.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to women’s employment and livelihoods as it deepens pre-existing inequalities, and exposes cracks in social, political and economic systems. From access to health services, social protection and digital technologies, to significant rise of domestic violence and unpaid care work, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for many around the world. Women with caring responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families and youth are among the hardest hit.

Globally, women represent 55.8 per cent of employees in service industries, while in the G7, women make up around 88 per cent of the service industry workforce. Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. Most are unable to work remotely and may require additional care support for children or older family members as they leave their homes to work.

This pandemic has brought to light the collective reliance on public social safety nets in a time of crisis. The COVID-19 crisis has also made starkly visible the fact that the world’s formal economies and the maintenance of our daily lives are built on the invisible and unpaid labour of women and girls. Along with governments, the private sector and workers’ representatives have a key role to play in establishing an equitable and gender-responsive future of work, now increasingly reliant on digital technology, and built on social, environmental and economic justice.

Roundtable participants put forth recommendations for G7 Member States to foster resilient and regenerative societies and economies and build the world we want post-pandemic. It is important for G7 countries to work in solidarity through global coordination with all stakeholders, and to prioritize gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in their COVID-19 crisis response and recovery.

During the meeting, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a crisis reaching far beyond health, challenging fundamental aspects of the ways in which we have previously arranged our social and economic structures. Women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal economy with less access to social protections. I call on leaders at the virtual G7 Summit to explicitly recognize this and ensure that their COVID-19 response intentionally, strongly and permanently redresses these long-standing inequalities in order to create inclusive, equal, and more resilient societies.”

Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said: “We can say that the COVID-19 crisis is gender biased looking at its impact on women-owned businesses, on the burden women are facing during the crisis, at the increase of gender based violence, but the COVID crisis is also an opportunity to rebuild back better. Our efforts should now concentrate on putting women at the centre of the recovery.”

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder shared: “The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare in the cruelest way, the extraordinary precariousness and injustices of our world of work. It has similarly highlighted the always essential role of the working heroes of this pandemic. People who are usually invisible, unconsidered, undervalued, even ignored. Health and care workers, cleaners, supermarket cashiers, unpaid carers in their homes and communities – a large majority of women, frequently migrant workers, too often numbered among the working poor and the insecure. The ILO calls for a human-centred COVID-19 response and recovery that build a better normal and tackle these injustices and the challenges of climate, digital and demographic transition”.

10 key actions for G7 Member States to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in COVID-19 crisis response and recovery:

1. Design and implement gender-responsive crisis responses with long-term solutions, aligned with International Labour Standards, to tackle the new challenges posed to the changing world of work.

2. Expand and invest in universal gender-responsive social protection, including effective and affordable access to quality health care, immediate income and food support to avoid deepening gender inequalities, as well as in contributory and non-contributory social protection systems to increase women’s resilience to future shocks.

3. Mitigate the pandemic’s impact on enterprises and employment, with a tailored and gender-responsive approach to reaching women-owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including in supply chains, as well as hard-hit sectors and occupations where women are over-represented.

4. Provide health care and other front-line workers with occupational safety and health equipment (e.g. PPE, menstrual hygiene products), decent working conditions and adequate remuneration, including equal pay for work of equal value.

5. Allocate additional resources to address discrimination and violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans, including effective measures to reduce the risks of heightened levels of domestic violence.

6. Invite businesses to sign and implement the Women’s Empowerment Principles that foster responsible business conduct, such as equal pay for work of equal value, gender-responsive supply chain practices and domestic violence policies.

7. Encourage financial stakeholders to leverage the power of capital markets and movements of resources to steer responsible business conduct and foster inclusive corporate cultures.

8. Design economic recovery packages that recognize and place a value on unpaid care work and care jobs; provide adequate level of childcare and other care services; support family friendly policies; and engage men to equally share the responsibilities of unpaid care and domestic work.

9. Ensure that gender equality is front and centre of learning and skills development during response and recovery to ensure that no girls are left behind.

10. Collect and report on gender statistics and sex disaggregated data to inform crisis response and recovery plans.