The COVID-19 pandemic has multilayered gender impacts, affecting men and women differently and threatening the progress made in gender equality over the past decades. Governments must take strong and deliberate action to protect these hard-won gains.

Gender equality has been at the heart of ADB’s pandemic response. All our COVID-19 rapid response packages have mainstreamed gender equality, setting gender targets across employment, social protection and health programs, as well as supporting gender-based violence response.  

Transcript

How did the pandemic affect women?  

The coronavirus pandemic has multilayered gender impact – affecting women and men very differently. It is clear that the pandemic represents one of the most significant threats to gender equality gains in the Asia-Pacific region in several decades.  

Let me share three main impact channels:  

Firstly in relations to job losses. Women’s jobs have been severely impactd because women are more concentrated in the sectors that are most hard hit such as tourism.   

In Asia and the Pacific, women’s labor force participation was already declining before the pandemic, and it’s the only region where this is the case. 

Women’s jobs are also more vulnerable in terms of the informal sector because they lack the social protection floor to support them in periods of crises.  

Secondly, the increased volume of unpaid care work. Women have borne the burden of caring for sick family members, helping children with schoolwork during distance learning, and additional household chores. This has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of  women and girls.  

Even before the pandemic, women already spent four times more than men on unpaid care work. So this increased burden has hit women harder and made it difficult for many women to stay in their jobs in paid employment.   

Last but not least, the economic and social stress of the pandemic have led to increases in domestic violence.  

Across Asia and the Pacific, there were reports that requests for  women seeking help have increased by almost 50% during the pandemic. And therefore, this is being called the “shadow pandemic”.  

During the pandemic, crisis management by women leaders were held up as models, why is that so?  

Women’s leadership is often characterized with traits such as consultation, collaborative and participatory approaches, and also a focus on ensuring that nobody is being left behind.  

These are some of the leadership traits that have been associated with political leaders such as Jacinda Adern of New Zealand, where we all know that pandemic management has led to one of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the world. But most importantly, whether it’s responding to a pandemic, or leading a business, or leading at community level,  there is a lot of evidence that shows gender diversity leads to positive outcomes.  

Unfortunately, women remain largely under-represented politically globally with less than a quarter of women parliamentarians across the globe. Let’s hope that these positive role models of female leadership will become the norm in the new normal.  

How can a government make sure that its recovery program can improve gender equality from what was during or even before the pandemic?  

COVID-19 threatens the important progress made for gender equality and therefore to address these, governments will require very strong and deliberate commitment to protect these hard-won gains.  

There are a few key actions for governments to consider.

The first one is really to deliberately ensuring that the gender lens is applied when designing recovery programs. And this means looking at how the pandemic is affecting men and women differently - for example in terms of job losses – and designing targeted solutions rather than a one-size-fits all (solution), or what some gender specialists would call avoiding a gender blind approach.  

Secondly, it’s important to assure that there are enough resources allocated to targeting, addressing gender issues. 

This could be through gender-responsive budgeting, for example, which also promotes greater transparency and accountability in the budget management process.  

And thirdly and some would argue, most importantly, it’s very critical to address discriminatory social gender norms which underpin gender inequality, whether that be in the job market or the education sector, or many other areas. This would be critical to enabling member governments to address Sustainable Development Goal 5.  

How can a women-focused recovery be beneficial to the economy and society?   

Focusing on women in recovery efforts makes sense from an economic as well as a development perspective.  

We know that job losses have been higher among women than for men.  

Therefore, it is imperative that recovery strategies prioritize creating decent work opportunities for women as they reenter the labor market.  

Economies need the full range of talent and skills of their population to contribute to growth, and cannot afford to leave women further behind.  

A recent ADB policy brief on Mongolia found that closing the gender gap in labor force participation rate could lead to 16% increase in GDP over the next 30 years.  

The potential for growth as well as gender equality is enormous and is a viable economic strategy. 

Beyond the economy, a women-focused recovery goes hand-in-hand with building back better. It holds the promise of inclusion and sustainable growth, by removing barriers to women’s empowerment in all aspects of life, be it at household level, in public life, through education, or in the labor market.  

How is ADB supporting governments to promote gender equality in its COVID-19 response and recovery?  

Since the earliest days of the pandemic in 2020, ADB mobilized very quickly to support its developing member countries to respond to this unprecedented crisis in our region.  

Gender equality has been at the heart of our response and we are very proud, for example, that all of our COVID-19 rapid response packages have mainstreamed gender equality, setting gender targets across employment, social protection and health programs, as well as supporting gender-based violence response.   

We have complemented this with technical assistance to help member countries track and monitor these programs from a gender perspective.  

In addition, we are also actively strengthening the understanding of gender impacts to supporting rapid assessments and surveys to measure the gender impact of the pandemic.  

Sex-disaggregated data is critical to design evidence-based programs and respond to women’s needs that can mitigate and protect the challenges  to gender equality that have emerged from the crisis.  

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