Progress towards gender equality has declined due to the socioeconomic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls remain disproportionately affected by the loss of their jobs and livelihoods, and disrupted education. Most worryingly, the post-pandemic world has seen an increase in domestic violence; more than 1 in 4 women have been subjected to intimate partner violence once in their lifetime.
Over a million women, aged 25-54 years with young children, were left unemployed in 2020, with an additional 2 million women leaving work to complete household work and care. In 2019, women made up only 39% of the total global workforce; following the pandemic this figure saw a rapid decline, with a 45% decrease in female employment globally in 2020. On average, women will spend about 2.5 times as many hours per day on unpaid domestic work and care work as men, according to the latest data from 90 countries and areas collected between 2001 and 2019.
Women’s health services faced major disruptions during and after the pandemic, further undermining women’s sexual and reproductive health. Only 57% of women make their own informed choices on sex and reproductive health care. Similarly, women are still disproportionally underrepresented in health studies, with only 22% of women clinical trial participants.
This perpetuates the significant medical research gender gap affecting women globally; there are important differences between male and female responses to drugs and therapies that are often not considered in patient planning because of a lack of research and data. There are disease states which differentially affect female bodies, impacting the prevalence, diagnosis, and outcomes for women. In addition to this, the gender health gap extends to patient care. Institutionalised sexism often leaves women with a lower standard of care, compared to their male counterparts, or completely without care resulting in millions of women falling through the healthcare system every year. The United Kingdom is believed to have the largest female health gap among G20 countries and the 12th largest globally.
To combat these systemic equality issues, the U.N Sustainable Development Goals outlines a plan under SDG 5, which seeks to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The six targets listed under SDG 5 aim to address each of the above challenges to achieve gender equality by 2030. To reach this goal, governments first need to strengthen their gender-response budgeting. Oxfam describes a gender-responsive budget (GRB) as “a budget that works for everyone – women men, girls and boys – by ensuring gender-equitable distribution of resources and by contributing to equal opportunities for all”. Only 26% of global governments have comprehensive systems to track gender-budget allocations. This limits the allocation of public resources for the implementation of the appropriate laws and policies, meaning that the inequality cycle remains the norm. Greater efforts must be made to strengthen financing and legislation targeted towards making progress in combatting gender inequality.
However, discriminatory laws and legal gaps continue to prevent progress. Globally, many women still lack basic human rights. As of 2020, across 95 countries more than half of them lacked quotas for female positions in parliaments. Additionally, 63% continued to lack laws to define rape based on consent laws, disproportionately affecting women. The Women’s Budget Group was created as a response to address some of these key issues. They are an independent, non-profit organisation, consisting of academics and policy experts that seek to support governments in favour of implementing GRB plans to promote a gender-equal economy.
In conjunction with Oxfam, The Women’s Budget they have developed a framework that categorises GRB actions at different stages of the budget cycle, to enable municipalities to analyse their current gaps in policies. Some of the framework’s key points highlight the necessity for GBR to incorporate a strategy for transitioning gender analysis into policy, followed by a strong political commitment at the highest level of government, securing long-term funding plans and ensuring that bodies working on GRB are credible. The Women’s Budget Group run several projects that work to build the capacity of women’s organisations. In addition, they conduct an in-depth analysis of gender inequality, which has been used to influence policy debates and international campaigning. Their work directly contributes to SDG 5, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Georgina Murrin is a Sustainability Analyst in Itriom’s London Office.
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