Putting women front and centre in Covid-19 recovery

New Zealand is said to have been largely successful in eradicating rather than containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was under the stewardship of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Her response to the crisis was decisive, firm and yet full of the compassion and empathy so needed from a leader when a country is in its darkest hour.

This trend of successful women leaders seems to be consistent in other countries seen to be doing well with the pandemic: Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Finland with Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Taiwan with President Tsai Ing-wen, to name a few.

This is in contrast with the US – which has seen more than 100,000 deaths and countrywide riots due to racism – led by President Donald Trump who seems more interested in photo-ops, tweets and ego trips.

In the same vein would be the UK which has one of the worst death rates in Europe, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson who admitted that Britain was unprepared for the pandemic and has been accused of being too slow in implementing lockdowns, mass testing and ensuring sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Women comprise about 70% of health workers bravely risking their lives on frontlines across the globe. Yet at the same time, they are supposed to be homemakers, childcare and meal providers, house workers and a myriad of other roles.

When the pandemic hit countries with unemployment and economic devastation, women, children, migrants, the poor, disabled and other marginalised groups were disproportionately affected.

Covid-19 death rates have also been observed to be higher among men than women, leaving many families with women to fend for all their needs.

In Asian communities, when childcare centres close and no alternative methods of childcare are available, women are the first to stay home to look after the children.

Similarly, when schools close and online lessons are implemented, it is mainly the women who ensure that children’s education continues at home.

When families suffer job layoffs, again, women must fend for them all.

This is despite many essential women’s services taking a back seat during the pandemic with negative consequences to their health. We have seen cases of domestic abuse spiral, unplanned pregnancies, abortions and even maternal deaths.

The disproportionately negative outcome for women and girls must be taken into account when we reopen our economy and restart our industries.

It has been shown that when women can fully contribute to economic efforts, recovery is faster, better and more sustainable.

Packages and policies that place women at the heart of recovery efforts are essential. Places can be given for women to participate in key positions and decision-making roles.

It is also critical to encourage an equal share of domestic and informal work with men, for example through paternity leave, home-maker allowances or tax reliefs.

The increasing number of businesses and enterprises driven by women clearly accelerate economic growth. Access to microcredits with no collateral, government-aided business training and support for women can be made more available.

It is also vital to ensure that women have employment opportunities without discrimination, harassment or loss of freedom. Laws such as a sexual harassment act should be passed without delay, while industry regulations barring discrimination based on gender and pregnancy status should be mandatory.

The country’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and its progress beyond will be a journey of a million steps, and women and girls must be at the heart of every step we take.

Dr John Teo is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.