March, women’s history month, closes with the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico and against the background of significant setbacks on the empowerment of women caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. From our seats in the General Assembly and our screens at home we have seen it growing: the increase in deaths; gender-based, including intimate partner, violence; abuse of women and girls who speak out; the widening of the gender gap for access to digital technologies; the loss of jobs, the decrease of women’s participation in public life and decision-making; disrupted access to essential health care; increase in child marriage; and the diminished access to education. Day by day in this yearlong battle against the pandemic we have seen how women are impacted twice: first by the virus, and then by its devastating secondary effects. We are 49 women ambassadors representing countries from all regions of the world, and we believe that such a reality is simply intolerable. Here we tell that story and what needs to be done to urgently recover the hard-won gains of recent years.
The COVID-19 crisis has a woman’s face.
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The face of women nurses, doctors, scientists, care-givers, sanitation workers, and of those leading the response to the pandemic.
Women are on the front line:
As leaders delivering effectively with vision and care.
But also as victims of structural vulnerabilities and of violence and abuse.
The “shadow pandemic” of exploitation and abuse, including domestic and intimate partner violence, should be a jarring wake-up call to us all. The latest WHO data show that 1 in 3 women experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while the UN reports that women with disabilities have four times the risk of experiencing sexual violence in comparison to women without disabilities. Women will also bear the heaviest toll of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic because they often carry the responsibility for unpaid dependent care and are over-represented in jobs most affected by the crisis - hospitality, tourism, health, and trade.
The lack of women’s participation in society threatens to delay the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Politically-motivated gender-based violence online and offline is a barrier to women’s ability to participate fully and equally in democratic processes. Moreover, the persistently high rate of grave violations of women’s rights worldwide is appalling.
Against this background, this March the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focused on two issues: fighting gender-based violence, and scaling up women’s full and effective participation at all levels and in all sectors. Meaningful participation of women in politics, institutions and public life is the catalyst for that transformational change, which benefits society as a whole. Only four countries in the world have a parliament that is at least 50% women. Worldwide only 25% of all parliamentarians are women. Women serve as heads of state or government in only 22 countries today, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. According to UNESCO, 30% of the world’s researchers are women. While 70% of the health and social care workforce are women, they make up only 25% of leaders in the global health sector.
Current projections show that if we continue at the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.
These figures speak of unacceptable barriers and bottlenecks that continue to block women's participation.