Pandemic will push 47 mn more women into extreme poverty by 2021: UN

UN chief terms COVID19 as game-changer for int'l peace, security
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres/ File photo
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres/ File photo

The COVID-19 pandemic will disproportionately affect women and push 47 million more women and girls into extreme poverty by 2021, reversing decades of progress to lift this demographic above the poverty line, according to new data released by the UN.

The new analysis by the UN Women and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said the COVID-19 crisis will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women who live in poverty.

The poverty rate for women was expected to decrease by 2.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021, but projections now point to an increase of 9.1 per cent due to the pandemic and its fallout.

The "pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of whom are women and girls. This will increase the total number of women and girls living in extreme poverty to 435 million, with projections showing that this number will not revert to pre-pandemic levels until 2030," the UN agencies said.

The projections show that while the pandemic will impact global poverty generally, women will be disproportionately affected, especially women of reproductive age. By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on USD 1.90 a day or less), there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.

"The increases in women's extreme poverty are a stark indictment of deep flaws in the ways we have constructed our societies and economies," UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said.

"We know that women take most of the responsibility for caring for the family; they earn less, save less and hold much less secure jobs – in fact, overall, women's employment is 19 per cent more at risk than men's," Mlambo-Ngcuka added.

She said that the evidence of multiple inequalities is critical to driving swift, restorative policy action that puts women at the heart of pandemic recovery.

While the pandemic has posed a serious threat to the prospects of eradicating extreme poverty by the end of this decade, the reality is even grimmer as these projections of increased poverty rates for women and girls only account for the downward revision of the gross domestic product (GDP), excluding other factors—such as women leaving the workforce due to childcare responsibilities—that may also affect the sex distribution of poverty.

"More than 100 million women and girls could be lifted out of poverty if governments implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving access to education and family planning, fair and equal wages, and expanding social transfers," UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said.

He noted with concern that women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis as they are more likely to lose their source of income and less likely to be covered by social protection measures.

"Investing in reducing gender inequality is not only smart and affordable but also an urgent choice that governments can make to reverse the impact of the pandemic on poverty reduction," he added.

COVID19 game-changer for peace

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told world leaders that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a game-changer for international peace and security.

The world has "entered a volatile and unstable new phase" in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on peace and security, the UN chief told a virtual meeting with world leaders on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency reported.

Speaking at one of a series of international meetings among heads of state to enhance global cooperation in fighting terrorism and violent extremism, as part of the Aqaba Process, the UN secretary-general said the pandemic is more than a global health crisis.

The Aqaba Process is an initiative launched in 2015 in the Jordanian city of the same name by the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, to strengthen international cooperation against violent extremism and terrorism.

"It is a game-changer for international peace and security," said the UN chief, emphasizing that the process can play a key role in "promoting unity and aligning thinking" on how to beat back the pandemic.

The meetings, held via teleconference, covered security challenges emerging in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to address them, in addition to means of unifying and integrating efforts among all stakeholders to counter the threats of terrorism and extremism.

This round of meetings reportedly saw the participation of the presidents of Nigeria, the Philippines, Kenya, and Bulgaria; and the prime ministers of Canada, Bulgaria, and Albania, in addition to UN and Interpol secretaries-general and NATO's deputy secretary general.

Guterres told the virtual meeting that the coronavirus has exposed the basic fragility of humankind, laid bare systemic and entrenched inequalities, and thrust into the spotlight geopolitical challenges and security threats.

"The warning lights are flashing," he said, stressing that as the virus is "exacerbating grievances, undermining social cohesion and fueling conflicts," it is also likely to "act as a catalyst in the spread of terrorism and violent extremism."

Moreover, international tensions are being driven by supply chain disruptions, protectionism and growing nationalism – with rising unemployment, food insecurity and climate change.

The pandemic has highlighted vulnerabilities to emerging threats such as bioterrorism and cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure.

"The world faces grave security challenges that no single country or organization can address alone," Guterres said, adding that "there is an urgent need for global unity and solidarity."

Recalling the UN's Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week in July, he reminded that participants called for a "reinvigorated commitment to multilateralism to combat terrorism and violent extremism."

However, a lack of international cooperation to tackle the pandemic has been "startling," Guterres said, highlighting national self-interest, transactional information sharing and manifestations of authoritarianism.

The UN chief underscored the need to put people first, by enhancing information sharing and technical cooperation "to prevent terrorists exploiting the pandemic for their own nefarious goals" and thinking "long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes."

"This includes upholding the rights and needs of victims of terrorism… (and) the repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters, especially women and children, and their dependents to their countries of origin," he noted.

The secretary-general also addressed the Centenary Summit of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) on how private and public sector cooperation can help drive post-COVID change.

He lauded the IOE's "significant contributions" to global policymaking for economic and social progress, job creation and a mutually beneficial business environment, calling it "an important pillar of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since its earliest days."

"Today, our primary task is to defeat the pandemic and rebuild lives, livelihoods, businesses, and economies," he told the virtual summit.

In building back, he underscored that workers and small businesses should be protected, and everyone be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

ILO chief Guy Ryder highlighted the need for conscious policy decisions and tripartite cooperation to overcome transformational challenges, such as technological change and climate change, as well as COVID-19.

Ryder also flagged that employers must continue to collaborate in social dialogue and maintain their commitment to both multilateralism and the ILO.

The IOE represents more than 50 million companies and is a key partner in the international multilateral system for over 100 years as the voice of business at the ILO, across the UN, the G20 richest countries and other emerging forums.

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