By Nelson A. King
CMC Feature Writer
SANTIAGO, Chile, April 9, 2020 (CMC) – In light of women’s greater exposure, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has called on regional governments, to guarantee women’s rights, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
Participating in a virtual “Briefing of Ministers and High-Level Authorities of Machineries for the Advancement of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean: The response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis from a gender perspective”, yesterday, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, said, “it is necessary to design and implement comprehensive, public policies, based on a gender and rights perspective, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the short-, medium- and long-term”.
The brief was organized by ECLAC and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and attracted the participation of representatives from 29 countries in the region: 14 from Latin America and 15 from the Caribbean.
ECLAC said the main objectives of the gathering were to: analyze the distinct economic and social scenarios of the current crisis and its differentiated impact on women in the short, medium and long term; exchange information about the main initiatives that governments in the region are carrying out, with special consideration for women’s needs and gender inequalities, in the framework of the current crisis; and promote regional, sub-regional and bi-lateral cooperation initiatives that support a coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis, by incorporating lessons learned, in the region and other parts of the world.
Bárcena emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has “illuminated the inequalities between men and women, but it has also crystallized the importance of care for the sustainability of life”.
“Today, it is crucial to reflect upon, and take action, regarding the little visibility that care and women’s diverse activities have, in the region’s economies,” she pointed out. “It is essential to devise responses to the population’s needs using a gender approach.”
Bárcena urged participants to think about how the measures, being taken by states in the region, are affecting the structural constraints of gender inequality, laid out in the Montevideo Strategy for Implementation of the Regional Gender Agenda within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Framework by 2030.
“That is, ensuring that what is being planned and implemented, in this crisis scenario, does not worsen those phenomena of inequality and injustice that we have been working, so long, to roll back,” she explained.
“We have advanced a great deal on the agreements and commitments that make up our Regional Gender Agenda, and, a few months ago, governments adopted the Santiago Commitment — at the XIV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in January — taking one more important step towards achieving gender equality,” Bárcena noted.
She insisted on the importance of ensuring the incorporation of a gender perspective into policies on the macro-economy, social protection and employment, among others.
The ECLAC Executive Secretary elaborated, that seven years of slow economic growth that have accumulated in Latin America and the Caribbean – with rising rates of poverty, extreme poverty and inequality – could significantly affect women.
Bárcena further warned that if the effects of COVID-19 lead to five percent of the economically-active population losing their income, poverty could increase by 3.5 percentage points.
“This would mean that 107 million women in the region would find themselves in situations of poverty,” she added.
She also enunciated that the measures to contain the pandemic could have effects on women’s formal labour, “due to their concentration in the most affected sectors, such as social services, wholesale and retail sales, business services, and transportation, storage and communications”.
The ECLAC executive continued that these four sectors account for 78 percent of all employed women in the region, adding that quarantine and public health measures will have adverse effects on people, in the informal market and in small businesses.
ECLAC said the limited and unequal coverage of health systems affects people’s access to care and reinforces women’s unpaid work.
In this regard, it pointed out that the containment and quarantine measures deepen the crisis of care in the region: 72.8 percent of all people, employed in the health sector, are women, while paid domestic work represents 11.4 percent of employed women.
Meanwhile, in the period, prior to the pandemic, ECLAC said women spent one-third of their time on domestic work and unpaid care.
“Today, with the closure of schools, social isolation and an increase in the number of ill people, the extra burden of unpaid work intensifies,” the Commission said.
It said, the quarantine or confinement situation entails serious threats to the security of many women and girls, who suffer violence in their homes, “since it increases the amount of time that women are alone with their abusers, while reducing the possibilities for seeking help.
“In the countries of the region that have measurements, at least one in every four women has experienced an episode of physical or sexual violence, perpetrated by their intimate partner.”
Bárcena emphasized that the Montevideo Strategy contributes to incorporating a gender perspective into the policies, adopted to confront COVID-19 and its consequences, stating that “it allows for carrying out campaigns to broadly disseminate the services available, to guarantee women’s rights.”
“We are facing an unprecedented crisis, where, clearly, the role of States and intergovernmental organizations will be decisive, for coordinating actions that allow us to get past the emergency, as soon as possible, and to undergo an economic and social recovery, leaving no one behind,” she reasoned.
During the meeting, ECLAC said it made available to countries, an initial mapping of the initiatives — announced by ministries and machineries, for the advancement of women — to address gender dimensions, in the responses to the pandemic in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
ECLAC said this mapping will be updated, with the progress presented at the meeting and will be made into an updated digital repository, available to countries.