In Brief: Plan for Equal: Gender Equality, Social Justice and Sustainability in the Wake of COVID-19

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Ensuring an equal and sustainable future

As the world tries to live with COVID-19, emerge from the current crisis and ‘build back better’, UN Women will launch ‘Plan for Equal’. The Plan will provide a visionary, but practical roadmap for putting gender equality, social justice and sustainability at the center of reconstruction and recovery. It will feed into UN Women’s Generation Equality Forums and Action Coalitions, aimed at accelerating commitments and action on and financing for gender equality.
Starting out as a public health crisis, COVID-19 has rapidly morphed into a full-fledged economic and social crisis, the effects of which are likely to reverberate for years to come.

Markets have been in free fall, supply chains have been disrupted, businesses have been forced to close or scale back operations, and millions have lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result. As governments have tried to contain the damage, rampant inequalities between countries have once again come to the fore, leaving developing countries scrambling for resources in the face of unsustainable debt burdens, capital outflows and limited fiscal space. Within countries, the spread of the virus and its impact has been exacerbated by inequalities along the lines of class, race/ethnicity, age and gender. Glaring gaps in social protection and health systems have become apparent, particularly in contexts where these were already underfunded, often as a result of austerity measures.

Decades of feminist research has made clear that the impact of crises is not gender neutral. This is no different for COVID19. While mortality rates by sex so far indicate that men are more affected by the most severe direct health impacts, women are especially hard hit by the economic and socialfallout: as the majority of frontline health workers, putting their lives on the line; as victims of domestic violence forced to ‘shelter in place’ with their abusers; as unpaid caregivers in families and communities, picking up the slack where schools, childcare and other services are scaled back; as workers in precarious jobs whose already fragile labour market attachment is being dealt a long-term blow in the context of lock-down and economic recession. Observers also fear that school closures, along with rising demands for unpaid care and domestic work, will hit girls in low-income countries particularly hard. It is estimated that 11 million girls may not return to school due to COVID-19, and that efforts to end child marriage will be disrupted, resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages by 2030 that could otherwise have been averted. Many countries have already taken unprecedented measures to address the immediate impact of the crisis, but the extent to which this response has been gender-sensitive varies widely, as the UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker shows. While a comparatively large number of countries (135) have put in place measures to address the surge in violence against women, for example, the social protection and jobs response has remained largely blind to women’s rights and needs.

The current pandemic also unfolds against the backdrop of other, relatively slower-moving crises – including environmental degredation and climate change – that pose similarly existential threats and cannot be addressed by a return to ‘business as usual’. Instead of letting another serious crisis go to waste, 3 there is an urgent need to rethink economic paradigms and reorient public policies towards sustainability and social justice.