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Conference on Why post-covid recovery needs women organized by Aspen Institute Italia

Video by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

13 September 2021

Excellencies,
Dear friends,

I thank Aspen Institute Italia for the invitation to participate in today’s discussion, organized in partnership with the Italian Presidency of the G20. I welcome this year’s G20 focus on inequality, across the pillars “People”, “Planet” and “Prosperity”.

Your focus is as relevant as it is timely. One year and a half after the outbreak of COVID-19, we are still struggling with the devastating crisis brought by a pandemic that has hit the world already in a context of rising inequalities.

For the past decades, economic models of many countries have been increasingly relying on precarious forms of employment. Public investments to protect people and planet have been reduced, including due to heavy burden of foreign debt. Taxation has focused more on short-term stimulus by cutting tax for the rich and for big companies, rather than progressive and green taxation. Digital revolution, aimed at driving prosperity, has not reached all.

COVID-19 has made matters worse. Social and economic inequalities have been exacerbated, as well as gender ones.

The pandemic has hit hardest in economic sectors where women are overrepresented, including hotel and food industries, paid domestic work and labour-intensive manufacturing. 

Women are also the majority of the millions of workers in the informal economy who were left with little to no social protection after losing their jobs. Their participation in the formal economy also continues to decline, more rapidly than men.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, the pandemic has prompted a setback of more than 18 years in women’s labour participation.

A dramatic shift to online education, teleworking and e-commerce has driven people with less access to digital technologies, mostly women and girls, further behind.  In addition, it was also women and girls who mostly absorbed the care needs created by the pandemic,  sacrificing their employments and education. In fact, young women between 15 and 29 years old are three times more likely to be out of the labour market and the classrooms than young men.

Adding to the severity of this crisis, the pandemic did not halt the negative impacts of the ever-growing environmental emergencies of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

People have been facing increasingly severe and frequent climate events, from floods to droughts and wildfires, as well as extreme weather -- heat and cold. At the same time, the shifting of investments from polluting and carbon-intensive industries to the greener economy has been slow.

Women and girls, particularly those facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, are once again disproportionately affected.  

Gender equality is imperative to overcoming these crises. Not just because it is morally the right thing to do. It is a necessity. And we have many examples showing us why.

In governments, women’s meaningful participation leads to greater investments in social protection, the environment and climate justice. In peace-negotiations, it is linked to more durable solutions. And in the private sector, to better business performance.

At the onset of the pandemic, one study estimated that immediate action to advance gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030 .  

But despite their contributions, women are largely absent from decision-making. The pandemic is no exception. Only 24 per cent of the members of national public institutions created to respond to COVID-19 are women. Their absence at the table is reflected in what is prioritised – and, critically - in what is not.

For example, if considered, the economic value of all types of care conducted by women would add up to US$11 trillion or 9 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product. Nonetheless, we have barely seen recovery measures addressing unpaid care work.

It is clear: to recover better from COVID-19, we must gear our efforts towards a gender-responsive human rights economy.

But how can we do this in practice?

By bringing women and girls in all their diversity to the decision-making table and ensuring their meaningful and safe participation;

Stepping up public investments in health, education, and social protection systems, as well as in efforts to mitigate climate change and protect environment, including though tax reform.

Ensuring quality education for all children and closing the gender divide in training, digital access and expertise in STEM fields.

Recognizing the economic value of both paid and unpaid care work and ensuring equal distribution of care responsibilities within the families, as well as with the State and the market;

Protecting women’s rights to and at work online and offline, as well as their access to information and resources;

Ensuring women’s economic participation is free from all forms of violence, including at home.

For all that, we need policies that are based on disaggregated data that can help us both identify who are being excluded and determine the root causes of inequality and discrimination.

In addition, everybody, including women and girls, must have access to justice and an effective remedy in case of violation of their human rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights.

Dear friends,

The private sector can also play a key role in shaping a gender-responsive economy.

I call on businesses to adopt and apply the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

In doing so, they will promote an inclusive and diverse workforce, ensuring work-life balance for both women and men workers, and investing in women leadership and entrepreneurship.

The private sector can also make a just financial contribution to the society, through their fair share of taxes, no corruption, and more equitable, responsible investments, including in the green economy.

It can strive to eliminate gender-based violence in the world of work, as well as environmental pollution and carbon emissions throughout their supply chains.

These measures will not only advance the rights of women and girls, but will also lead to more sustainable business activities.

It is only collectively that we will be able to shift our recovery towards gender-equality and a human rights economy that can deliver a sustainable future for people and planet.

I am counting on all of you.

Thank you.