Comment: Our inability to address growing inequalities, not least for women, has worsened the Covid-19 crisis, but there may be a silver lining, argues Lise Kingo of UN Global Compact
Before Covid-19, the United Nations warned that inequality is growing for more than 70% of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. Worst impacted are women. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report, it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity – or 10 generations of women.
Our failure to create a more socially just world before Covid-19 has significantly worsened the current crisis, and it could hamper our ability to recover better faster as a global community.
As we set out to rebuild a better world, the UN Global Compact urges businesses and governments to target gender equality as one of the most promising pathways towards a faster, more equitable and resilient recovery.
At the frontline of Covid-19 women play an invaluable role. They constitute 70% of the global health workforce, and bravely risk their own health and safety to care for others, often without access to sufficient personal protective equipment. Women often shoulder the domestic burden of caring for their families and sick and elderly relatives.
Women are hit hardest by the social and economic impact of Covid-19. ILO, the International Labour Organization, recently estimated that over the next three months we will see the loss of the equivalent of 200 million full-time jobs. And the World Bank has predicted that close to 50 million people will be thrown into extreme poverty, wiping away 20 years of work towards its eradication. Most at risk are the 2 billion poor workers, most of them in emerging and developing countries, many of them women. They live at the brink of extreme poverty without any rights or social protection.
Many businesses right now are fighting for their survival, and a looming global recession is forcing companies to think very short term. But it is important to underscore that economic recovery and sustainable development are not opposites. We need to avoid a scenario where companies say: “We’re dealing with Covid-19 now; we’ll return to our commitment to gender when we can.”
Economic parity between men and women could add as much as $28tn, or 26%, to global annual GDP
Gender inequality is not only a pressing moral and social issue, but also a critical economic challenge. According to McKinsey Global Institute, economic parity between men and women could add as much as $28tn, or 26%, to global annual GDP.
As part of our Target Gender Equality programme, designed to accelerate progress on women’s participation in top management and supervisory boards, and inspired by the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), we have looked at how companies can recover better and faster:
Give women a seat at the table - For every three men quoted in the media about Covid-19, only one woman is quoted. To ensure equal representation of men and women in decision-making, a primary step that all companies can take is to ensure that women’s perspectives are represented on everything from taskforces on Covid-19 response efforts and recovery strategies, to the board and executive committee of the company.
Promote equal division of domestic and care work - Businesses can promote equal division of domestic and care work by supporting working parents through equal parental leave and flexible workplace policies. They can apply lessons learned from telecommuting and flexible work during the Covid-19 lockdown to create a “new normal” and develop long-term working arrangements that support all employees
Promote women-owned businesses - Let’s ensure that women business owners get at least 30% of all the recovery and bailout funds that are being announced by governments around the world. Businesses can actively support women-owned businesses and entrepreneurship when re-establishing and growing their global supply chains.
Support decent work in supply chains - Work with global suppliers to ensure that women workers have access to decent work, social protection and equal opportunities without fear of discrimination, abuse or loss of freedom.
The Covid-19 pandemic is sweeping the world in the same year that the United Nations is commemorating its 75th anniversary. There is a lot of hope in that. It reminds us that we, as a human community, are able to lift ourselves up from our deepest and darkest hour to rebuild a new and better world on a set of shared values and principles.
The UN was founded in the wake of two devastating world wars with the understanding that to save future generations from the atrocities of war, nations must come together in multilateral cooperation to protect the dignity and worth of every human being. That vision is as relevant and important in the wake of this pandemic as it was then.
While we are all navigating unchartered waters, one thing is for certain: to build back better, we must build back more gender-inclusive. Together, we can disrupt gender stereotypes and show that leadership and decision-making should be shared responsibilities. Let’s create a world where the worth of men and women count equally. It will be a better world for everyone.
Lise Kingo is the CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact.
This commentary is part of our in-depth briefing Building back better: Ethical Corporation examines what Covid-19 will mean for sustainability