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Gender equality takes step back, Anglican Communion director says

11 September 2020

Reports show the effect of Covid on women and children


A young girl works as a brick-maker on the bank of the Buriganga River

A young girl works as a brick-maker on the bank of the Buriganga River

GLOBAL gender equality has taken a further step backwards in the wake of Covid-19, as millions of women face the disproportionate impact of increased poverty, the Director for Gender Justice for the Anglican Communion, Mandy Marshall, has said.

She was responding to a report from the United Nations, From Insight to Action: Gender equality in the wake of Covid-19, published last week, which estimates that the pandemic and its economic and social repercussions will push 47 million more women into poverty worldwide, reversing decades of progress on eradicating extreme destitution.

The report states: “The impacts of crises are never gender neutral, and Covid-19 is no exception. While men reportedly have a higher fatality rate, women and girls are especially hurt by the resulting economic and social fallout.

“Impacts on women and girls have worsened across the board. Women are losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors. According to a new analysis commissioned by UN Women and UNDP, by 2021 around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day — including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of Covid-19.”

The study, commissioned by UN Women and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), states that the poverty rate for women has increased by 9.1 per cent. Before Covid-19, the rate was expected to decrease by 2.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021.

By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on $1.90 a day or less), there will be 118 women — a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.

Ms Marshall said on Monday that gender-equality targets were “already off-track” before the coronavirus hit. “It is sadly no surprise, then, to read this report from the UN that Covid-19 has seen gender equality take a step backwards. Covid-19 has revealed the ongoing injustices that women and girls in particular face in both public and private life.

“Where women still hold the biggest burden of responsibility in household management and caregiving, they face the disproportionate impact of increased poverty as a result of Covid-19.”

The UN study warns that the virus “exposes and exploits pre-existing inequalities” of sex, race, and ethnicity, but that the full extent of these effects is as yet unknown. For example, women are disproportionately affected by poor access to sexual and reproductive health care; job insecurity; lower incomes; and front-line working (globally, 70 per cent of the health and social care workforce are women) — all of which have been affected by the social and economic fallout of Covid-19 worldwide.

Ms Marshall was also concerned about the sharp increase in domestic abuse around the world, due in part to victims’ being isolated and cut off from support during national lockdowns (News, 8 May).

In her report, Domestic Abuse and COVID-19: How Churches can respond, published in May by the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Alliance, Ms Marshall suggests that the Church is well placed to “recognise, respond, refer, and record” domestic abuse within communities.

Gender-based violence, she writes, is the result of “unequal power and stereotypes between women and men, whether among individuals or around us in our societies, culture, churches and law”. One in three women experience physical or sexual abuse by their partner, and, in some countries, this rises to 70 per cent of women. Calls to domestic abuse lines have increased by tens of thousands since the pandemic.

Ms Marshall said on Monday: “This is where the local church can step in and make a real difference. The church is ideally placed to respond to the needs of women and children within their own communities whilst also representing those needs to those in authority. We have seen the Church respond practically around the Anglican Communion during Covid-19 by providing food, care packages, soap, and toiletries, and offering a safe space for those fleeing violence and abuse.”

Read the report at www.unwomen.org.

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