Most countries are failing to adequately protect women and girls during the fallout from Covid-19, according to a new UN database that tracks government responses to the pandemic.
The global gender tracker has looked at how 206 countries and territories address violence against women and girls, support unpaid care workers and strengthen women’s economic security.
Forty-two countries had no policies to support women in any of these areas. Only 25 had introduced some measures in all three categories.
The UK had introduced measures to support women facing violence, but had not targeted efforts to support women economically in its response plans.
Domestic violence cases have surged during the pandemic and the data said 135 countries had put in place measures to respond to gender-based violence cases, such as running helplines and shelters.
Earlier this month, the UN projected the poverty rate among women would increase by 9.1% because of the pandemic and its fallout. In July the McKinsey Global Institute reported that the crisis made women’s jobs 1.8 times more vulnerable than men’s, but if action on gender equality was taken now, $13tn (£10tn) could be added to global GDP over the next decade.
Sixty-one countries had taken action to ease the care burden on women, which increased as schools closed and older people were having to isolate.
“The Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity for countries to transform existing economic models towards a renewed social contract that prioritises social justice and gender equality,” said Achim Steiner of UNDP, which launched the tracker with UN Women on Monday. “This new gender response tracker can help accelerate policy reform by guiding on gaps in national efforts and funding and highlighting best practices.”
Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, a UNDP director, said many of the measures introduced by governments to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 “could evolve into long-term policies”.
“We have the potential to change the development trajectory … and we should take advantage of these opportunities,” she said.
Åsa Regnér, deputy executive director of UN Women and a former gender minister, saidgovernments should introduce measures now to shift care responsibilities away from women.
“I think that the care issue is sometimes considered something that happens at home after 5 o’clock and we can’t do anything about that,” she said. “But that is actually not true, according to evidence. There is a lot a government can do if they really want to shift this.
“It is important to put parental leave schemes in place. It is important to put day care, elderly care schemes in place in the country. These are often pretty expensive social investments the first time you invest in them, but they do pay off.
“You have to make those investments because they will certainly pay off in terms of bigger labour forces in countries, more value to the economy through women’s contribution to paid work.”
Hakima Abbas, a director atthe Association of Women’s Rights in Development, added: “The pandemic has really exposed a weakness in social protection systems, but revealed how strongly our society depends on care work. At the same time it also sharply increased the care burden. States must invest in care services.”
She said what was needed was a feminist recovery plan. “We can’t afford to go back to business as usual, and what was – and what shouldn’t be – considered normal.”