Opening remarks by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the ADB-UN Webinar on Promoting Gender Equality in COVID-19 Response, 10 September 2020
Excellencies and distinguished guests,
It is a great pleasure to join my colleagues from UN Women to cohost this webinar on Promoting Gender Equality in the COVID-19 Response. Over the years, ADB has enjoyed a strong partnership with UN Women in advancing gender equality in our region. This webinar reflects the two organizations’ joint commitment to ensuring that gender equality is at the heart of our response to and recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
On a wider scale, accelerating progress in gender equality is a priority for ADB. Last year, ADB adopted its Strategy 2030 Operational Plan for Gender Equality, which outlined a clear vision of the importance of gender equality for both women’s empowerment and as an effective means of achieving sustainable and inclusive development. ADB is strongly committed to ensuring that all women and girls in our region can have equal access to resources and opportunities, have their rights protected, and have their voices heard in decision-making processes. Under Strategy 2030, we also increased our corporate gender targets: by 2030, 75% of all our operations will promote gender equality.
Over the years, we have pioneered new approaches and sought to open more opportunities for women and girls to fully benefit from our sovereign and nonsovereign projects. Examples include creating skilled job opportunities for women in the solar energy sector in the Pacific and facilitating women entrepreneurs’ access to finance and training in order to grow their businesses in Central and West Asia.
ADB’s response to COVID-19
From the earliest stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, ADB responded to provide emergency support rapidly to our developing member countries, especially in helping the government procure urgently-needed medical equipment and supplies, test facilities, and in shoring up straining health systems. On 13 April 2020, we announced a comprehensive $20 billion package to support our developing member countries in addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this package, ADB has established the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option (or CPRO), a countercyclical expenditure support program providing quick-disbursing budget support to help governments finance their crisis-related social protection programs. By the end of 2020, there are 26 CPROs expected to be committed for a total of $10.1 billion.
How gender equality was mainstreamed and promoted in the COVID response
Each CPRO program typically comprises three elements: social assistance, economic stimulus measures, and health sector support. Recognizing that women and girls in poor and low-income households are among the most severely affected groups by the pandemic, all the CPRO programs have included gender targets. Let me share some of the examples from ADB’s COVID-19 responses in our developing member countries represented here on today’s panel.
In social protection, our responses have included cash transfers and food subsidies targeted at women and girls in vulnerable households. In India, at least 50 million poor women will receive additional cash transfers, and at least 60 million poor women will be provided with free cooking gas cylinders.
Our economic stimulus support has included financial, fiscal and wage subsidies to enterprises and their employees. In Samoa, for example, at least 4,000 market vendors (of whom at least 75% are women) will operate rent-free on selected government-owned properties for a four-month period.
ADB’s emergency COVID-19 support also ensures that personal protective equipment, separate facilities for female and male health careworkers, and training to treat COVID-19 patients are provided to frontline health workers, who are predominantly women.
Our support has also directly addressed one of the pandemic’s devastating consequences—the increased rates of gender-based violence. Emerging data have pointed to increases in domestic violence since the beginning of the pandemic, worsened by the lockdown conditions which has forced many victims to live with their abusers with little access to help. ADB has worked with its DMCs to provide resources for gender-based violence support programs. For example, in the Philippines, ADB will be supporting the Department of Health to conduct training for healthcare workers to identify, treat, and provide referrals to victims.
Today we will hear more examples about how gender equality has been integrated into the COVID-19 responses. I am looking forward to hearing from the ministers and distinguished speakers about their experiences, challenges, and policy priorities.
Ways forward: how gender equality will be included in ADB’s support to DMCs
Now, let me turn to the way forward. Throughout the recovery phase, we must ensure that hard-won progress on gender equality over the past decades will not be wiped away by the impacts of the pandemic. For this reason, we will increase our efforts to narrow gender gaps in areas such as job creation, access to financial and economic assets, food production, education, skills development, and health services. Improving women’s and girls’ access to vital infrastructure such as water and sanitation, electricity, safe and affordable mobility, and digital technology will be particularly important in the COVID-19 recovery phase.
Key issues such as gender-based violence, the unpaid care work burden that disproportionately falls on women’s shoulders, reproductive health, women’s leadership, and strengthening women’s resilience through effective social protection are enshrined in Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals. ADB remains fully committed to help the region achieving the ambitious SDG targets including those on gender equality.
At ADB, the past six months have demonstrated the importance of working closely together with our government counterparts and partners to achieve our common goal of ensuring that women and girls are not left further behind by COVID-19. I look forward to continuing the discussion on how ADB can work with leading regional partners such as UN Women to ensure that women and girls are at the heart of the recovery from COVID-19. It is our hope that the “new normal” is a significantly “better and more equal normal” for women and girls in our region.