Where are the Women? How Pandemic Decisions are Ingraining Global Gender Bias
This story was originally published by IPS Inter Press Service.
By Raquel Lagunas.
The writer is Gender Team Director at UN Development Programme (UNDP)
A healthcare worker collects samples for COVID-19 testing at Mimar Sinan State Hospital in Buyukcekmece district, Istanbul, Turkey, April 2020. New numbers reveal that men outnumber women 3-1 in 225 COVID-19 task forces around the world, while 70 percent of the frontline healthcare workers are women. Credit: UNDP Turkey/Levent Kulu
There are teams of experts around the world right now tackling the coronavirus pandemic, providing pathways to put an end to this deadly global scourge and charting the course for recovery.
These task forces comprise health experts, economic leaders, policy makers, and more to ensure the best holistic solutions are put forward. But what they don’t have is gender balance and, in some cases, any women at all.
There are three men to every woman on national COVID-19 task forces around the world, according to recent data from the United Nations Development Programme, UN Women and the University of Pittsburgh.
The data show that women, on average, still make up only 24 percent of members among the 225 COVID-19 task forces examined across 137 countries. And in 26 task forces, there are shockingly no women at all.
This is a problem. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in recent remarks, the pandemic has provided yet another opportunity for men to dominate decision-making. And when women are missing from decision-making, we see the world through only one perspective.
Male-dominated decision makers will lead to male-dominated policies. With each new recommendation or proposed policy towards pandemic recovery, assumptions will be made on behalf of women, because women aren’t in the mix.
When male-dominated task forces recommend economic measures, for instance, are they considering the mass exodus of women workers who were forced to leave their jobs to take care of their families during this crisis?
Tracking governments’ pandemic responses will help us better understand the gender gaps in global policies and actions. That is why the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, developed by UNDP in partnership with UN Women, collects data on national COVID-19 measures taken by governments and showcases them in a one-stop shop for policy makers to see where they need to correct course.
The tracker, which includes over 3,100 policy measures across 219 countries and territories, indicates that the global response to the economic fallout remains, so far, largely gender blind. It shows, for example, that only 13 percent of all the fiscal, labour market, and social protection policy measures analyzed target women’s economic security.
We know that women’s full participation is essential for democracy and can lead to more sustainable peace and greater climate action. It also brings more inclusive perspectives that can influence public policies and institutional practices to include a gender lens.
So, why are women’s voices still missing from COVID-19 leadership, especially when they are being disproportionately affected by this crisis?
Many factors play a role in this exclusion. Among them are perceptions and bias. Last year UNDP released data that showed 90 percent of people surveyed had some bias against women. The index also showed that about half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders, and over 40 percent feel that men make better business executives and that men have more right to a job when jobs are scarce. How women are viewed by society places them at the back of the line.
There’s also a gender gap in public administration. We know that having more women in the public sector and civil service brings women’s perspectives and needs to policy and public service delivery, but women are still missing from leadership positions in this area.
Data from 2018 show that women made up 45 percent of the public administration workforce but only 34 percent of decision-making positions.
Over the past year the pandemic has worsened these longstanding gender inequalities and revealed just how deep and pervasive these inequalities are in our political, social and economic systems. Women’s economic security is in jeopardy as their jobs are hardest hit, their unpaid care work continues to dramatically rise, and a shadow pandemic has emerged as domestic violence surges globally.
At the same time, women are “the shock absorbers of society” and make up the majority of the global health workforce, working at the frontlines of the pandemic. Women should have the opportunity to shape their own future and the post-pandemic world, and to bring their different views and perspectives to the table.
It’s not too late to change this.
Women have the skills, the knowledge and the expertise to lead in all decision-making spaces, including the COVID-19 response. What they lack though is power. We must work together – UN agencies, governments, civil society, the private sector and others – to shift the power into women’s hands and to close this power gap.
To create this change, we need to break down the structural barriers and alter discriminatory social norms and attitudes that are holding women back. Strengthen constitutional, legislative, and political processes, for example by establishing quotas.
Address the increasing violence that women in public life face, both online and offline, as well as reform our workplace cultures so women can harness their full leadership potential. Recognize women’s unpaid care and domestic work and address the crisis of care to ensure women have equal conditions to participate fully in decision-making in their societies.
As we determine the best way forward from this pandemic, let’s not waste this opportunity to do things differently. Now is the time to work together to ensure that women finally have a seat at the decision-making table, in the COVID-19 response and beyond.