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Report reveals nearly 90 per cent of all people have ‘a deeply ingrained bias’ against women

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Despite decades of progress in closing the gender equality gap, close to nine out of 10 men and women around the world, hold some sort of bias against women, according to new findings published on Thursday from the UN Development Programmme (UNDP).

The first UNDP Gender Social Norms Index analyzed data from 75 countries, which are collectively home to more than 80 per cent of the global population, and found new clues to the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality – potentially forging a path forward to breaking through the so-called “glass ceiling”.

According to the data, almost half of those polled feel that men are superior political leaders, while more than 40 per cent believe they make better business executives and are more entitled to jobs when the economy is lagging. Moreover, 28 per cent think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.  

“We have come a long way in recent decades to ensure that women have the same access to life’s basic needs as men”, said the head of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, Pedro Conceição, acknowledging that “we have reached parity in primary school enrollment and reduced maternal mortality by 45 percent since the year 1990”.

But, he conceded, “gender gaps are still all too obvious in other areas, particularly those that challenge power relations and are most influential in actually achieving true equality”.

The analysis also highlighted a bias shift in some 30 countries, revealing that while some show improvements, attitudes in others appear to have worsened in recent years – signaling that progress cannot be taken for granted. 

“The fight about gender equality is a story of bias and prejudices”, maintained Mr. Conceição.

Existing ‘power gaps’

The new analysis shines a light on why enormous “power gaps” continue between men and women in economies, political systems and corporations, despite tangible progress in closing gender inequalities in developmental areas, such as education and health as well as in removing legal barriers to political and economic participation. 

UNDP gave the example that while men and women vote at similar rates, only 24 percent of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women and there are only 10 female heads of government out of 193 Member States.

Furthermore, women are paid less than men working the same jobs and are much less likely to be in senior positions.

According to the data, less than six per cent of chief executive officers in the US stock market index S&P 500 companies, are women.  And while they work more hours than men, their work is more likely to be unpaid care labour. 

“The work that has been so effective in ensuring an end to gaps in health or education must now evolve to address something far more challenging: a deeply ingrained bias – among both men and women – against genuine equality”, said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, adding that “current policies, while well intentioned, can only take us so far”.

Change discriminatory beliefs

UNDP pointed out that 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25), the most visionary agenda on women’s empowerment to date and called on world leaders to accelerate action to meet global targets on gender equality. 

The UN agency is urging governments and institutions to utilize new policies to change these discriminatory beliefs and practices through education, and by raising awareness and changing incentives.

For instance, taxes can be used as an incentive for sharing child-care responsibilities, or women and girls can be encouraged to enter traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as the armed forces and information technology.

“The women’s rights demonstrations we’re seeing across the world today, energized by young feminists, are signaling that new alternatives for a different world are needed,” said UNDP Gender Team Acting Director Raquel Lagunas. 

“We must act now to break through the barrier of bias and prejudices if we want to see progress at the speed and scale needed to achieve gender equality and the vision laid out in the Beijing Declaration over two decades ago and the Sustainable Development Goals”, she spelled out.

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COVID-19’s impact on wages is only just getting started

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Global pressure on wages from COVID-19 will not stop with the arrival of a vaccine, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned on Wednesday, coinciding with a major report showing how the pandemic had slowed or reversed a trend of rising wages across the world, hitting women workers and the low-paid hardest.

“It’s going to be a long road back and I think it’s going to be turbulent and it’s going to be hard”, said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, as he announced the findings of the ILO’s flagship Global Wage Report, which is published every two years.

‘Extraordinary blow’

Except for China, which was bouncing back remarkably quickly, most of the world would take a considerable period of time to get back to where it was before the pandemic, which had dealt an “extraordinary blow” to the world of work almost overnight.

“The aftermath is going to be long-lasting and there is a great deal, I think, of turbulence and uncertainty,” Mr. Ryder said. “We have to face up to the reality, at least a strong likelihood that… as wage subsidies and government interventions are reduced, as they will be over time, that we are likely to face continued downward pressure on wages.”

But he added that it was unlikely and in many ways undesirable that the world should simply try to return to how it was before the coronavirus struck.

Cruel revelation

“This pandemic has revealed in a very cruel way, I have to say, a lot of the structural vulnerabilities, precariousness, that is baked into the current world of work. And we need to take the opportunity – it’s almost indecent isn’t it, to speak of opportunity arising out of this mega global tragedy of the pandemic? – but we do have to extract from it, the types of opportunities that allow us to think about some of the fundamentals of the global economy and how we can, in the bounce back process, make it function better.”

The Global Wage Report showed how the pandemic has put pressure on wages, widening the gap between top earners and low-wage workers, with women and the low-paid bearing the brunt.

After four years when wages grew on average, by 0.4-0.9 per cent annually in advanced G20 economies and 3.5-4.5 per cent in emerging G20 economies, wage growth slowed or reversed in two-thirds of countries for which recent data was available.

Low-wage job disaster in the US

But the figures only reflect wages for those who have jobs, and in some countries, such as the United States, so many low-paid workers had lost their jobs that average wages appeared to have risen, a misleading picture.

The damage could have been worse if governments and central banks had not stepped in to dissuade companies from laying off workers during the pandemic lockdowns, the ILO report said. It said such measures had allowed millions of wage earners to retain all or part of their incomes, in contrast to the impact of the global financial crisis a decade ago.

‘Constructive social dialogue’

But for economies to start returning towards sustained and balanced growth, incomes and aggregate demand would need to be supported and enterprises would have to remain successful and sustainable.

“Constructive social dialogue will be key to success in achieving this goal”, the ILO report said.

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COVID-19 crisis highlights widening regional disparities in healthcare and the economy

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The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people and economies has highlighted widening regional disparities in access to healthcare and economic growth and persistent disparities in digitalisation over the past decade, according to a new OECD report.

Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 says that at the onset of the pandemic, some regions were less well prepared to face the health emergency. With 10 beds for every 1000 inhabitants, regions close to metropolitan areas have almost twice as many beds as remote regions. Over the last decades, most regions in OECD countries have seen a significant reduction in the number of hospital beds available per inhabitant, with an average decline of 6% since 2000 and of 22% in remote areas.

The health impact of COVID-19 has been particularly hard in some areas within countries. For example, in some regions of Colombia, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths between February and June 2020 was at least 50% higher than the average over the same period in the 2 previous years.

Morbidity rates that make some places more vulnerable to health crises than others also vary widely. In some regions in Mexico, Chile and the United States, close to 40% or more of the population is obese, posing a higher risk in terms of fatal diseases. For example, due to higher obesity levels, in Mississippi the average likelihood to suffer severe symptoms if infected with COVID-19 is roughly 23% higher than in Colorado.

People living in large cities and capitals were also more able to quickly shift to remote working. Many rural areas still suffer from a lack of access to high-speed broadband, a lower share of jobs amenable to remote working and a less well-educated workforce. One in three households in rural areas does not have access to high-speed broadband, on average. Overall, only 7 out of 26 countries have succeeded in ensuring access to high-speed connection to more than 80% of households in rural regions. And in some regions in Italy, Portugal and Turkey, 25% or more of the population does not use the Internet or does not have a computer.

Some regions were also struggling economically before the crisis. After a period of decline in the early 2000s, gaps in GDP per capita across small regions in the OECD area have increased, reflecting a long-standing process of concentration of population and economic activities in metropolitan areas.

The evolution of regional economic disparities remains very heterogeneous across countries. Contrary to the OECD-wide trend, one-half of OECD countries experienced an increase in the gap between their richest and poorest regions. Trends in regional productivity follow similar patterns. Since 2008, only one-third of OECD countries have experienced an increase in productivity in all regions.

With more than 100 indicators, Regions and Cities at a Glance 2020 combines official statistics with new, modelled indicators based on less conventional data sources, analysing trends in health, well-being, economic growth, employment and the environment, as well as regions and cities’ preparedness to face global crises and adapt to megatrends.

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Cash flow the biggest problem facing business during COVID-19 crisis

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A new report  on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic  on businesses shows that their greatest challenges have been insufficient cash flow to maintain staff and operations, supplier disruptions and access to raw materials.

With businesses already undergoing significant competitive pressure prior to the crisis, government restrictions, health challenges and the economic fall-out brought by COVID-19 further set back many enterprises.

Interrupted cash flow was the greatest problem, the survey found. More than 85 per cent reported the pandemic had a high or medium financial impact on their operations. Only a third said they had sufficient funding for recovery. Micro and small enterprises (those with 99 employees or fewer) were worst affected.

The survey, carried out by Employers and Business Membership Organizations (EBMOs), involved more than 4,500 enterprises in 45 countries worldwide. EBMOs gathered data from their enterprise members between March and June 2020. The businesses were asked about operational continuity, financial health, and their workforce.

At that time, 78 per cent of those surveyed reported that they had changed their operations to protect them from COVID-19, but three-quarters were able to continue operating in some form despite measures arising from government restrictions. Eighty-five per cent had already implemented measures to protect staff from the virus.

Nearly 80 per cent said they planned to retain their staff – larger companies were more likely to say this. However, around a quarter reported that they anticipated losing more than 40 per cent of their staff.

Looking into the future, preparing for unforeseen circumstances and mitigating risks associated with a disruption of business operations is needed. Fewer than half the enterprises surveyed had a business continuity plan (BCP) when the pandemic hit, with micro and small businesses the least likely to have made such preparations. Additionally, only 26 per cent of the enterprises who responded said they were fully insured and 54 per cent had no coverage at all. Medium-sized enterprises, (those with 100 to 250 employees), were most likely to have full or partial coverage.

Strengthening government support measures for enterprises are also vital for their recovery. Four out of ten enterprises said they had no funding to support business recovery while two-thirds said funding was insufficient. Of the sectors analysed, the tourism and hospitality sector, followed by retail and sales, were most likely to report funding issues.

The report production was facilitated by EBMOs who collected and shared the survey data with the Bureau for Employers’ Activities  (ACT/EMP) at the International Labour Organization. ACT/EMP is a specialized unit within the ILO Secretariat that maintains close and direct relations with employers’ constituents.

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