Women are missing from COVID-19 response teams & plans internationally

Women are missing from COVID-19 response teams & plans internationally

The vast majority of national-level committees established to respond to COVID-19 do not have enough women involved.

From early-access to superannuation to re-introducing childcare fees and propping up the construction sector, Australia’s response to the economic fallout from COVID-19 appears to be missing one thing: gendered analysis, or even the input of women.

But we’re far from alone in failing to adequately include women’s voices in our COVID-19 response.

According to new research released today from CARE Australia surveying 30 countries, the majority of national-level committees established to respond to COVID-19 do not have enough women involved.

Three quarters (74%) of these committes are less than one-third female, with women making up an average 24% of committee members. Just one such committee was found to be gender-balanced (Canada).

This comes despite the global crisis disproportionately affecting women and girls. Women are taking the majority of frontline roles in the healthcare crisis, meaning they’re more exposed to the virus. Women are taking on remote learning, added childcare responsibilities during lockdowns, and are also at a greater risk of gender-based violence and domestic and family violence. There is a very real risk of girls who are currently out of school, never returning.

In seven countries surveyed, CARE was unable to find evidence of policy commitments or funding for reducing gender-based violence, or any kind of specific economic assistance for women.

More than half of those countries surveyed had taken no action on gender based violence.

And while three quarters of countries had made at least one policy commitment in support of women, as CARE reports, one policy is not enough when you consider the health, economic and social implications of the pandemic.

CARE also notes how women leaders have been overwhelmingly more successful than their male counterparts in managing COVID-19. (New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern has just announced there are no active COVID-19 cases in the country).

But the power of women’s leadership doesn’t stop in terms of successfully containing the pandemic. Those countries that do have women in power were found to deliver more responses that address women and girls.

Indeed, the higher a country’s score on the Council on Foreign Relations Women’s Power Index, the more likely they are to have crafted a gendered response.

Globally, women make up less than a quarter of lawmakers in national parliaments, which makes the need to intentionally include women in COVID-19 response teams even more urgent.

This research is a reminder, once again, of the desperate need to get more women in power — not just because it’s the ‘right thing’ to do, nor even to ensure everyone has an opportunity to succeed at these highest levels — but more importantly in order to address the policy and economic needs of women and girls internationally.

Women’s rights and women-led organisations must also be adequately funded, and consulted by governments in order to determine policy responses.

But more immediately, as CARE outlines, governments must apply a gender equality quota to COVID-19 response bodies and processes.

CARE goes on to recommend that UN agencies and international donors push to champion women’s leadership in COVID-19 responses, to recognise the vital role women are playing on the health and humanitarian frontlines, and to urgently channel at least 25 per cent of humanitarian funding to women-led and women’s rights organizations.

CARE’s survey of 30 countries asked three key questions: first, if women were equally represented on any national-level COVID-19 response teams assembled. Second, if the country had applied a gender lens to COVID-19 response measures. And third, if there is a correlation between those countries with more gender-balance national leadership and a more gendered response.

Canada was found to be leading on having women included in its COVID national response team, followed by Turkey, Finland and the UK.

While Australia has announced childcare support (which will end mid July) and taken additional action on violence against women, it has not released funding to support the “specific ways that COVID-19 has affected women economically”. Five of the 30 countries have: including Brazil, which has announced cash grants for single mothers; Canada which has issued support for female entrepreneurs; India, which has released grants to women with certain types of bank accounts; Turkey, which has increased social benefits for women; and the US, which has released grants for women’s businesses centring on education, training and advising.

Photo above courtesy of CARE Australia

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