BONN,Germany, Mar 18 (IPS) – During the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, while many sought safety being at home, women in the healthcare, child care, aged care, teaching and services fields — who hold the majority of jobs in those occupations — went to work everyday.
“The tragedy was those workers on whom we depend most, the fabric of society, are actually amongst the lowest paid,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. She was speaking during a side event to the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) that is currently taking place from Mar. 15 to 26.
The year’s commission theme is ‘Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’.
Yesterday’s side event titled ‘On the Path to Economic Justice and Rights: Working towards Women’s Economic Empowerment’ was organised by the government of Germany as well as the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights. The coalition is one of six themed coalitions that exist within Generation Equality, a UN Women campaign that promotes gender equality.
The high-level side event aimed to discuss women’s participation and decision-making in economic life. Globally women present the majority of the working poor with less than half of women of working age in paid employment.
Germany’s Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr. Gerd Müller, said the quest for economic justice and equal rights was made even more difficult by COVID-19, which brought existing inequalities into sharp focus.
He said that women and girls in Africa, Asia and Latin America were particularly hard hit.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls enjoyed fewer rights, had less access to education and resources and often lived and worked under appalling conditions. And now they are being hit by the fallout from the pandemic, the lockdown and the economic decline.
“Typically women were often the first to lose their jobs. Many girls will never return to school because they have to work in cottage industries in order to help support their impoverished families, or because they have an unplanned pregnancy or have been married off,” Müller said, adding that violence against women and girls had also increased worldwide. He called this a disaster and tragedy.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, acknowledged that violence against women, which she called ‘a shadow pandemic’ had increased.
“We also know that those who are experiencing violence and those who are experiencing job losses in large numbers are women in their 20s and 30s who have young children and still need to contribute to look after their families,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
“What are we going to do to assist women make a re-entry to the labour force as well as address the economic fall out that they will experience?” she asked.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said there was also a skills gap to address, as women were affected by the gender digital gap, they would not likely qualify for the new jobs that were likely to be created post-pandemic.
She also noted that women were carrying the burden of unpaid work at home, which required them to be at home and give up work.
She said a number of obstacles had emerged from the pandemic that affected the sustainability of women in the labour force.
Burrow said women were at “the forefront of every aspect of a labour market that is broken”.
“Are governments, are employers serious about rectifying the inequality of income, gender and race? If we are, then we need jobs, jobs and jobs because women have fallen out of the labour market and fallen into precarious work,” Burrow said.
She said because governments failed to regulate the labour market, 60 percent of workers worked in the informal market — the majority of whom were women.
These women, she said, had no rights, no minimum wage and their work conditions were not subject to compliance.
“So absolutely at the forefront of survival everyday. And then you have 40 percent of workers in the formal economy, but a third of those are in precarious or in insecure work. Again, the majority are women,” Burrow said.
Women are also most likely to be in low-paying, insecure and informal work and earned on average, in developed economies, 20 percent less than men. In developing economies the gap is believed to greater. Women are also highly represented in the sectors that are hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mlambo-Ngcuka noted that the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action still remained the most ambitious and far-reaching framework for achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Beijing Declaration sets out common goals, definitions and values for countries that are UN Member States in achieving gender equality.
“Twenty-five years later we have still not been able to implement it fully but it is still important for us
to do your best to implement it,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
“As we have not achieved everything that we wanted to achieve in the Beijing Declaration. We are therefore at that stage where we have to review how far we have come and Generation Equality is borne out of a realisation that we have a long way to go.
“We have also realised that the implementation of the SDGs have not moved as far and as fast as we wanted it,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said that Generation Equality helped advance gender quality on the following three fronts by:
- advancing the Beijing Declaration
- advancing the the SDGs, and
- responding in a gender-responsive way to the pandemic.
She said the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights was an action-orientated coalition that “with very concrete actions that we are going to take”.
“We are asking you to join us in this action coalition because these are the that issues we intend to address. We are hoping that in this action coalition we will look at the disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work that women are carrying.
“We will look at gender-based violence, including sexual violence in the workplace, and we are also going to be asking member states to ratify the ILO convention on sexual harassment and violence in the work place,” she said, adding they were looking at closing the gender pay gap as well as looking at the need for women to have protected and decent jobs.
She said in the event of another pandemic “we should not find ourselves in this situation again where there is a bloodbath of jobs that are occupied by women because they are unprotected and women have no benefits”. She said they also wanted to eliminate the $1.5 trillion credit gap that affects women.
Diane Ndarbawa, president of Manki Maroua, an association of girl-child mothers, from northern Cameroon, spoke about the constraints that women in rural areas face in accessing economic opportunities.
She said that in Central Africa and Cameroon in particular, there were several constraints that resulted in the low rate of participation by women in economic decisions, often relegating them to them to second place when it came to economic decision-making. Some of these constraints included; a lack of information on laws, policies and programmes related to economic opportunities; a lack of control over the required documentation (particularly the drafting of project and activity reports); poor computer and digital technology skills, and the misinterpretation of traditions and religions; among others.
“As a young woman there are additional constraints. In my region where there is violence and insecurity linked to extremism and traditions, young women limit themselves to small craft businesses,” she said.
She said the establishment of Generation Equality Action Coalitions would improve the participation of young women in economic activities in sub-Saharan Africa’s rural areas, particularly in Cameroon’s extreme north. Far North Cameroon has been caught in the midst of a Boko Haram insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin.
“Our participation in this multi-stakeholder process gives young women and associations the strength to contribute and influence decision-making bodies at all levels,” she said.
“It would be important to advance the rights of young women and girls by involving, by raising awareness with the population, more specially, parents, religious leaders, local leaders, showing them the importance of the empowerment of young women,” Ndarbawa said.
Meanwhile, Müller said Germany had stepped up support for action to empower women and girls and the work of the UN. He said Germany had allocated €38 million in additional funding to help promote gender equality during the current pandemic.
“If we are serious about our desire to recover better together, we will need women and girls who are empowered and therefore strong. Now more than ever,” Müller said.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service