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More women in leadership needed to reverse Covid-19 impact on gender poverty gap, says UN report

Women with children carry grass to be used for thatching in Stapleford, Zimbabwe, 02 August 2020 (Credit: Keystone/ EPA/Aaron Ufumeli)

The economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis will push 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty by 2021, further widening the gap between women and men, according to a UN report released today.

A slowing global economy and mounting job losses due to the pandemic is driving more people into poverty worldwide. However, women are being worst affected because they are more likely to be employed in hard-hit sectors, such as retail and hospitality.

To stem these effects, women need to play a greater management role at the center of efforts to tackle the crisis, the findings commissioned by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show.

Living below the bread-line

The impacts of crises are never gender-neutral, and Covid-19 is no exception. While men reportedly have a higher fatality rate, women and girls are especially hurt by the resulting economic and social fallout.

While the poverty rate for women was expected to decrease by 2.7 percent between 2019 and 2021, the projections in the report, carried out by the Pardee Centre for International Futures at the University of Denver, now point to an increase of 9.1 per cent as a result of the crisis.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said:

“The increases in women’s extreme poverty, in particular at these two stages of their lives, are a stark indictment of deep flaws in the ways we have constructed our societies and economies,”

“We know that women take most of the responsibility for caring for the family; they earn less, save less and hold much less secure jobs – in fact, overall, women’s employment is 19% more at risk than men’s. The evidence we have here of multiple inequalities is critical to drive swift, restorative policy action that puts women at the heart of pandemic recovery,“ she added.

Solutions for lifting women out of poverty

The report, From Insights to Action: Gender Equality in the wake of COVID-19, lays out a number of recommendations for closing the gender poverty gap, among them – the need for more women in power. A number of recent reports show that countries with female leadership have managed the crisis better.

It also calls for more inclusive social and economic policies in response to the crisis that address women’s labour, both inside and outside the home. This includes providing access to affordable childcare and providing economic packages in support of vulnerable women. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, said:

“More than 100 million women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers.”

The report places the cumulative cost of putting in place those policies by 2030 at about $2 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP), or just 0.14 per cent of global GDP.

Analysis by the International Futures Model estimates that over 100m women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments improved access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers. Applying a gender lens in designing fiscal stimulus packages and social assistance programmes would also help in achieving more equality.