In 2019, SDGs advocates and rights activists were fastidiously preparing for a momentous year. Making a call for the Decade of Action with only 10 years remaining to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, 2020 was a supposed to be big year with the unveiling of the SDGs 2020 report as well as marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration. A big year it was, indeed. But not as one might have imagined.
The world came to a standstill with the rampaging coronavirus – schools closed down and people were under lockdown. It seemed there was no light in sight! During a World Humanitarian Forum’s webinar, UNICEF’s Genevieve Boutin had revealed that nearly 1.4 billion children were out of school. Adding to this dismal number, Plan International’s CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen also spoke about the grim realities of the girl child in this scenario. “The reality for a girl child in every situation is exactly the same, which is permanently dropping out of schools. Girls need special efforts in so many communities to go to school, to overcome cultural and social norms, the economics, the many barriers that are in front of them. And, when she has gotten into school and it closes for whatever reasons, it is very common that she doesn’t go back because the family will simply not prioritize that in many cases.” UNESCO states that over 11 million girls will not go back to school after the COVID-19 crisis.
With little information about the new, lethal virus, world organizations were initially quick to give positive financial projections. But the disastrous socio-economic and health impacts reverberated across the globe. Perhaps the biggest brunt was the pandemic’s toll on women’s socio-economic gains made in the past. Already disproportionately affected by gender pay-gap, burdened with unpaid and unregulated care-work as well as making up the majority of single-parent household, the COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated gender inequalities across each and every sphere of society.
According to a Mckinsey report: “Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even accounting for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.”
The report also reveals: “In a gender-regressive scenario in which no action is taken to counter these effects, we (Mckinsey) estimate that global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector. (It is important to note that the impact could be more severe than the one we have modeled here if factors such as increased childcare burdens, attitudinal bias, a slower recovery, or reduced public and private spending on services such as education or childcare make women leave the labor market permanently.) Conversely, taking action now to advance gender equality could be valuable, adding $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030 compared with the gender-regressive scenario. A middle path—taking action only after the crisis has subsided rather than now—would reduce the potential opportunity by more than $5 trillion. The cost of that delay amounts to three-fourths of the total global GDP we could potentially lose to COVID-19 this year.”
It would indeed be untrue to claim that we – even now – fully know or understand the short and long term impact of the pandemic and its trajectory. But what we do know is that the impact of the COVID-19 is de-equalizing. Women and girls stand to lose if we are to lose sight of the gains made over the past many decades. To continue in the path of progress, the need of the hour is to be deliberate in a rights-based approach to development and to engage as well as work together in areas that build the Power of Parity including economic opportunity, equality in work, political voice, physical security and autonomy and most importantly access to education.
While it certainly is no rocket science, it is crystal that without gender equality and inclusion of half of the population of the world, a sustainable solution and yes a thriving economy would remain a distant notion. With the year end in sight, a sliver of hope that the breakthrough vaccines, perhaps, present – we welcome the year 2021 with renewed hope and aspirations. What remains to be seen is have we learnt from errors and judgements past as we brace ourselves for yet another leap…?