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COVID-19 Pandemic Triggers Devastating Social, Economic Impact on Women, Girls, Secretary-General Says, Urging Governments to Protect Their Rights

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Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message on women and COVID-19, in New York today:

The COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone, everywhere. But it affects different groups of people differently, deepening existing inequalities. Early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men. But the pandemic is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls.

Today, we are launching a report that shows how COVID-19 could reverse the limited progress that has been made on gender equality and women’s rights — and recommends ways to put women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of resilience and recovery.

Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. As markets fall and businesses close, millions of women’s jobs have disappeared. At the same time, as they are losing paid employment, women’s unpaid care work has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people.

These currents are combining as never before to defeat women’s rights and deny women’s opportunities. Progress lost takes years to regain. Teenage girls out of school may never return.

I urge Governments to put women and girls at the centre of their efforts to recover from COVID-19. That starts with women as leaders, with equal representation and decision-making power.

Measures to protect and stimulate the economy, from cash transfers to credits and loans, must be targeted at women. Social safety nets must be expanded. Unpaid care work must be recognized and valued as a vital contribution to the economy.

The pandemic has also led to a horrifying increase in violence against women. Nearly one in five women worldwide has experienced violence in the past year. Many of these women are now trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions. This was the basis for my appeal to Governments earlier this week to take urgent steps to protect women and expand support services.

COVID-19 is not only challenging global health systems, but testing our common humanity. Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.