COVID-19: How Business Can Support Women in Times of Crisis

Jason Cheng

United Nations Global Impact

Many of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are hitting women disproportionately hard. Women are more likely than men to work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs. Women also make up the majority of health professionals and essential workers at the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, risking their health and safety, as well as those of their families.

As health resources are diverted to address the pandemic, women also face additional challenges to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, especially in the least developed countries. As schools and childcare facilities close in response to COVID-19, women are further burdened with increased childcare responsibilities, adding to an already uneven load. And when quarantines are in effect, the risk of domestic violence against women and their children increases, while support services for victims decrease.

From immediate relief efforts to longer-term recovery strategies, all sectors of society, including business, have a responsibility to ensure actions taken to combat COVID-19 are responsive to the unique and unequal impacts on women. This special Academy session covered steps business can take to respect and support the rights and lives of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speakers include:

  • H.E Margaret Kobia, Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs
  • Ann Cairns, Vice Chairman, Mastercard
  • Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact

What did we learn?

When it comes to gender equality, we cannot afford to lose ground. There is growing concern that gender-based inequalities around the world will increase, rolling back progress on gender equality and the SDGs. Each and every one of us is affected but this unprecedented crisis will hit women — who often hold vulnerable and precarious jobs — the hardest. Why?

  • 70% of the healthcare workers risking their lives are women.
  • 60% of women’s employment is in the informal economy with few protections against dismissal and limited access to social protection.
  • The global gender pay gap is stuck at 16% leaving women more vulnerable to economic downturn.
  • Domestic violence has increased by upwards of 25% in some countries as a result of lockdowns. At the same time, victims face limited access to protective services during periods of quarantine.
  • Women’s healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health, is harder to access as resources are diverted.
  • Women already do three times more unpaid care work as men. With the virus spreading and 850 million children around the world home from school, the additional burden continues to primarily fall on women.

For the private sector to be part of the solution, it must place women and girls at the center of their efforts both during and after this crisis. The Women’s Empowerment Principles help business advance gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community and can guide companies in recognizing and responding to the gender-specific impacts of COVID-19.

Specific actions companies can take include:

  • Ensuring women’s representation and inclusion in all planning and decision making: Research shows that more diverse teams take better, more sustainable decisions. In a COVID era, companies should apply this guidance to crisis task forces and response teams, and ensure that both women and men are represented in COVID-related processes. Target Gender Equality supports companies in setting and reaching ambitious corporate targets for women’s representation and leadership – in times of crisis and beyond.
  • Supporting working parents and keeping in mind that the majority of unpaid care work falls to women: Among other things, companies should offer flexible work arrangements, support safe and appropriate child care options, as well as paid sick, family and emergency leave, and offer equal maternity and paternity leave. The current situation provides a chance to disrupt gender stereotypes, change traditional narratives, and show that leadership and decision-making, household chores, and caring for and teaching children can and should be shared responsibilities.
  • Helping to address the unintended consequences of stay at home measures, including the alarming increase in domestic violence: Companies can play an important role in helping to direct employees to needed services, including domestic violence hotlines and supporting the health and well-being of employees including pre- and post-natal healthcare.
  • Supporting women across the value chain and in the communities where your business operates: This may mean ensuring that suppliers that rely heavily on female labour receive payment for existing orders and additional support to keep afloat and paying workers, where possible. It might also include providing leniency to women entrepreneurs, offering financial products and services to save them from bankruptcy, and deliberately looking to build relationships with women-owned businesses as part of recovery efforts.
  • Partnering with Government and other sectors to tackle COVID-19 and support recovery efforts: The WEPs emphasize that a company’s responsibility to respect and support women’s rights does not end at the company’s walls. H.E Margaret Kobia emphasized the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships and Ann Cairns outlined Mastercard’s efforts investing in vaccination and called on companies to maximize positive impacts – including beyond past focus areas.

Lessons learned can provide guidance in closing the economic gender gap. A silver lining of the pandemic is the possibility of seeing more companies adopt gender-inclusive workplace policies and practices, including flexible work arrangements and family-friendly workplaces that can in turn, encourage more balanced share of care and family responsibilities between women and men globally. To use this experience to accelerate progress towards a gender-equitable future, it will be key to collect data disaggregated by gender, age and other factors to track the impact of all response efforts.

Recommended Resources

For more information on the UN Global Compact’s response to COVID-19, please visit: unglobalcompact.org/COVID19

Comments