Women should be at the forefront of the post-pandemic recovery

Ph. Ada Yokota via Getty Images

To be effective, social and economic action must be gender focused

Juan E. Notaro

FONPLATA Executive President

The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has affected women more severely than men, especially in Latin America, where they work mainly in the informal sector of the economy.

“Women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, and are more likely to be employed in the informal economy, with less access to social protections”, stated Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, in a recent virtual event, held by ILO.

Women are also the largest workforce in commerce and services, the sectors most affected by the measures of closure of premises and movement restrictions. Besides, they are usually in charge of household chores and caring for the elderly or the sick.

Indicators were already not very encouraging before the pandemic: "higher informality, higher incidence of part-time work, lower salaries, lower social protection and greater volatility in the face of fluctuations in the economy", according to the report “The Coronavirus and the challenges for women’s work in Latin America”, issued by the UNDP.

Once the emergency was declared, the situation only worsened: more Latin-American women than men stopped having income, their household chores increased, and domestic violence cases increased showing worrying signs of exacerbation.

An OAS paper informs that “the emergency stemming from COVID-19 has specific impacts on women and is deepening existing gender inequalities, both inside and outside homes, in hospitals and health centers, at work, and in politics.”

How do we cope with this situation? How do we avoid the deepening of these inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic? How are development agencies taking responsibility for the improvement of women’s situation in a post-pandemic world?

Valeria Esquivel, ILO gender and development research coordinator, suggests the implementation of policies that keep women in work, as they have a harder time than men in getting back to paid work once crises have passed.

A statement by UN Women proposes “greater investment in gender-responsive budgeting globally to ensure that fiscal policies advance gender equality in short and long-term recovery.”

Alicia Bárcena, Executive Director of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean states in a press release the need of “economic, employment, health, education, and social protection policies, on the basis of promoting social and gender co-responsibility”.

This perspective is shared by the economist Alma Espino and the sociologist Daniela de los Santos, both gender-specialized researchers at the Centro Interdisciplinario de Estudios sobre el Desarrollo de Uruguay (Interdisciplinary Center for Development Studies of Uruguay), and authors of a report for UN Women, in which they state that “economic and social actions to respond to the economic and health crises must be taken from a gender perspective, taking into account their different impacts on women and men”.

The regional governments and development agencies are already dedicated to this task. Thus, for instance, Argentina has recently announced a “public work development plan under a gender perspective.”

As for FONPLATA – Development Bank, we are promoting, also in Argentina, the creation of female employment with programs like “Agua y Cloaca más Trabajo” (Water and Sanitation plus jobs), which establishes gender equality in hiring, besides promoting access to water and sanitation and creating new jobs.

Likewise, our program in Bolivia “Urban Infrastructure for Employment Generation” establishes that work crews shall be made up of 50% men and 50% women, even if in some areas women participation is of 80%, mostly young women.

This program covers 21 middle-sized cities in every department of the country and will benefit seven million people. It comprises the three cities of the central axis (El Alto–La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz de la Sierra) that concentrate 50% of the Bolivian population and 45% of the country’s GDP.

The infrastructure works involve the pavement of roads and sidewalks, the construction and strengthening of green areas, construction and improvement of leisure areas, and public lighting.

These comprehensive urban infrastructures not only promote the inclusion of women to the labor market, but also promote the construction of sustainable, accessible and inclusive cities, as well as a better social and cross-generational interaction, and encourage the participation of civil society.

Such initiatives have shown results that contribute to improve the situation of the beneficiaries, and FONPLATA is set to continue promoting and including more projects that put women in the center of the post-pandemic recovery.

Overcoming the historical inequalities that I mentioned above requires coordinated actions. As María-Noel Vaeza, Regional Director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean says: "If you do not count on us to overcome the economic crisis, this continent will need many more years to recover.”

Text originally published in the monthly column of Juan E. Notaro in the Huffington Post.