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Generations of progress for women and girls could be lost to COVID pandemic

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Generations of progress stands to be lost on women and girls' empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: ILO

Highlighting the disproportionate and devastating socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on women and girls globally, The UN chief António Guterres called on Monday for a major push to prevent “years, even generations” worth of progress on women’s empowerment, from being lost to the pandemic. 

In an address to a virtual town hall with young women from civil society organizations, the Secretary-General said that the global pandemic has already reversed decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights. 

“Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains”, he cautioned. 

Mr. Guterres underscored the vital role played by women, as healthcare workers, essential staff, teachers and carers, helping millions globally – both within and outside their homes.  

However, few are recognized due to persisting inequalities and biases. At the same time, many women working in the informal sector have been thrown into financial insecurity, without regular income or effective social safety nets. 

“The pandemic has exposed the extent of its impact on physical and mental health, education and labour force participation”, said Mr. Guterres, amid disturbing reports from around the world of skyrocketing gender-based violence, “as many women are effectively confined with their abusers, while resources and support services are redirected”. 

“In short, the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential”, he said. 

Monday’s town hall meeting is a regular fixture on the UN calendar, but generally organized on the side-lines of the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year, however, it was postponed due to the pandemic and held virtually, with thousands of women activists and defenders of women’s rights participating remotely.  

Here to listen 

The Secretary-General underlined that his main objective during the town hall was to listen, not talk, and he encouraged participants to ask questions and share their opinions. 

Martha, an activist from Poland, spoke of the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe which is putting democracy and human rights at risk.  She wondered how to address this challenge, especially amid a global crisis. 

Like the UN chief, Nina from Georgia agreed that women’s work is undervalued, and that the pandemic has placed additional responsibilities on them. 

“While we are trying to unpack what a pandemic has caused, I think it is important for us to once again understand the invisible barriers that women are facing for their economic empowerment,” she said. 

Some participants submitted written questions which were read out by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women, the UN agency which promotes gender equality globally. 

Issues raised covered the rise in teenage pregnancy during the pandemic, protection of human rights defenders, support for people with disabilities, and the need to fight racism. 

“We are delighted that women across the world have this opportunity to speak to the UN Secretary-General at this time about their issues and concerns, and to hear from him”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, who served as the event’s moderator.   

“Civil society and the women’s movements are unflinching partners in the drive to name and tackle the inequalities that have grown under COVID-19, and to put women at the centre of recovery.” 

Women and girls at the centre of rebuilding 

In his remarks, the UN chief recalled the UN’s policy brief issued in April, which urged governments to put women and girls – their inclusion, representation, rights, and protection – at the centre of all efforts to tackle and recover from COVID-19. 

The first phase, Mr. Guterres said, was for nations to take a “holistic view” of the pandemic’s health impact.  

“All women have a right to quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services. Governments have a responsibility to make sure women and girls can access these services, even during a crisis”, he said, calling for health systems that meet the needs and realities of all – including women and girls. 

“This means prioritizing and funding primary health care and Universal Health Coverage,” added the Secretary-General, while also prioritizing protection of women from gender-based violence in national COVID-19 plans. 

Mitigating social and economic impacts 

Equally important is putting money into the hands of women working in both formal and informal economies, the UN chief continued. 

“Cash transfers, credits and loans should be targeted at women, to mitigate the immediate impact of job losses and increased caring responsibilities”, he said. 

Governments should expand social safety nets and recognize the value of invisible and unpaid care work, as they inject stimulus funds to get their economies back to work. 

Doing so will address vulnerabilities women experience, ensure women’s central role in economic life, and in the long term, contribute to sustainable development and more inclusive and resilient economies, explained Mr. Guterres. 

Economic reset 

He highlighted that the pandemic has demonstrated “what we all know”, that millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture that damages everyone – women, men, girls and boys. 

“It is clear that we cannot go back to the failed policies that have resulted in the fragility we see around us – in healthcare systems, in social protection, in access to justice. This is the time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies. Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the UN chief declared. 

“We need to take the opportunity of an economic reset to ensure the rights to life, dignity, and security for everyone.” 

Recovery goes beyond governments 

Alongside governments, the private sector, academic institutions and civil society, should be fully engaged in recovering better, Mr. Guterres said.  

He called for protecting and expanding the civic space so that civil society organizations can play their full part. 

“We must also emerge from this crisis with women’s equal leadership and representation,” added the UN chief. 

He went on to recognize women leaders, officials and health workers for their empathy, compassion, communication and evidence-based decision-making, fighting the ravages of the coronavirus

“Their actions are showing the value of inclusivity. It stands to reason: doubling the resources, capacity and expertise we put into decision-making benefits everyone”, the UN chief said, calling for gender parity and bringing more women into leadership positions. 

A landmark year 

The Secretary-General noted that 2020 contains several important landmarks. It is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration; the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; and the first year of the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – key achievements in gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

In that vein, he reinforced his determination to advance women’s priorities and to ensure their equal rights and participation in the peace and security agenda, on climate change, on building inclusive economies, and on reducing and eliminating the digital divide so that women have an equal role in designing technologies of the future. 

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New Social Compact

Gender Pay Gaps during Pandemic: A Reflection on International Workers’ Day 2021

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Men, rather than women, have been disproportionately affected by job losses over time. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of this pandemic recession has shown that women are more likely to be unemployed. As a matter of fact, women have lost substantial jobs as a result of increased childcare needs caused by school and daycare closures, which prohibit many women from working, and as a result of their employment being concentrated in heavily affected sectors such as the services sector (hospitality business, restaurant, retail outlets and so on). According to a study by Alon et al, women’s unemployment increased by 12.8 percent during the first period of Covid-19 (from March 2020), while men’s unemployment increased by just 9.9 percent. Changes in job rates (which include transfers into and out of the labor force) follow the same trend, with women experiencing a much greater drop in employment than men during the recession. Similar trends have been seen in other pandemic-affected countries.

In Southeast Asia, where informal workers account for 78 percent of the workforce, women make up the majority of blue-collar employees. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, women make up a substantial portion of the domestic workers, despite having a low contractual working status in informal settings. They are underpaid as a result of the pandemic, and the Covid-19 recession has reduced their importance in the workplace. Indonesia as one of the countries which affected by pandemic also experienced similar thing, with two-thirds of the female population in the active age group (between 15 and 64 years old), Indonesia is supposed to have tremendous potential for accelerating its economic development, but the truth is the opposite due to the never-ending pandemic. Since the pandemic began, many employees, mostly women, have lost their jobs or had their working hours shortened. Of course, their daily wages are affected by this situation. Besides, the wage gap between men and women also widens from March 2020 to March 2021, with women in the informal sector receiving up to 50% less than men, clearly resulting in discriminatory practices.Despite the fact that Indonesia ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration in 1958, fair and equal salaries have remained unchanged until now, and the legislation seems to have been overlooked and inapplicable in a pandemic situation.

Furthermore, the issue is not resolved at that stage. Apart from the pandemic, both formal and informal workers are exposed to various work systems and regulations. Women may have similar experiences with low wages and unequal payment positions in both environments, but women who work in the formal sector have the capacity, experience, and communication skills to negotiate their salaries with their employers, while women who work in the informal sector do not. Women in informal work face a number of challenges, including a lack of negotiation skills and a voice in fighting for their rights, particularly if they lack support structures (labor unions). Furthermore, when it comes to employees’ salaries, the corporate system is notoriously secretive. Another issue that continues to upset women is the lack of transparency in employee wages. Despite the fact that the national minimum wage policy is regulated by the government, only a small number of female workers are aware of it.

Overcoming Gender Pay Gaps within Pandemic Condition

In the spirit of International Workers’ Day 2021, there should be an organized and systematic solution to (at the very least) close the wage gap between men and women in this pandemic situation. International organizations and agencies also attempted to convince national governments to abolish gender roles and prejudices, however this is insufficient. As a decision-maker, the government must ‘knock on the door’ of companies and businesses to support and appreciate work done disproportionately by women. Furthermore, implementing transparent and equitable wage schemes is an important aspect of significantly changing this phenomenon. Real action must come not only from the structural level (government and corporations), but also from society, which must acknowledge the existence of women’s workers and not undervalue what they have accomplished, because in this Covid-19 condition, women must bear the “triple burden” of action, whether in productive work (as a worker or labor), reproductive work (as a wife and mother), and also as a member of society. Last but not least, women must actively engage in labor unions in order to persuade gender equality in the workplace and have the courage to speak out for their rights, as this is the key to securing fair wages. And when women are paid equally, their family’s income rises, and they contribute more to the family’s well-being.

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New Social Compact

Latvian human rights activists condemn homophobia in China, Latvia and the world

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The issue of human rights of LGBT persons is like a hot potato – hard to spit it out, but also hard to swallow. Despite majority of the public having nothing against the LGBT community, people are afraid to allow them to have the same human rights everyone else has.

Governments and politicians also clash when it comes to fully recognizing the human rights of LGBT persons – and communist China is no exception. Interestingly, the Chinese Communist Party maintains a stance of double morals on this issue. On the one hand, during UN meetings China always reproaches other nations about homophobia and violations of LGBT rights. On the other hand, China has never been able to eradicate homophobia in the Chinese community, but instead has furthered it, for instance, by banning Eurovision broadcasts in China and by trying to ignore the existence of an LGBT community in China.

The Chinese Communist Party has become seriously entangled in its own ideology – as I already wrote, Chinese representatives have no shame in criticizing other countries’ discrimination of people with a non-traditional sexual orientation, stressing that China doesn’t consider homosexuality to be a mental illness. Moreover, the Chinese government has publicly stated that China supports the activities of LGBT organization. But this is simply not true! Although on the international stage Beijing acts as a protector of the human rights of LGBT communities and agitates for the equality of gays and lesbians, in China itself LGBT and women’s rights activists are being repressed, detained and held in labor camps. Thus, Beijing is doing everything in its power to suppress women’s rights and human rights in general.

The most pathetic thing in all this is that Beijing has always voted against all UN initiatives and resolutions that concern the recognition and establishment of human rights for LGBT persons, as this would draw even more attention to the violations of human rights in China itself.

In this regard, in solidarity with Chinese LGBT representatives the leading protector of LGBT human rights from the party Latvian Russian Union (LKS) Aleksandrs Kuzmins and one of the LKS’s leaders and MEP Tatjana Ždanoka have expressed concerns over the recent homophobic attacks in Latvia and are urging citizens from Latvia and around the world to attach a rainbow flag next to the ribbon of St. George during the upcoming 9 May Victory Day celebrations, thus commemorating members of the LGBT community that died during World War II.

Kuzmins stressed that during WWII members of the LGBT community also fought against Nazi Germany, adding that it’s no secret that in the Soviet army there were hundreds and thousands of gays and lesbians who fought shoulder to shoulder for the freedom of their motherland. These people were, however, repressed and exiled to Siberia after the war by the Stalin regime. Most of them were tortured to death in gulags, which is confirmed by information recently acquired from Moscow’s archives.

Human rights activists from the LKS believe that it’s time for people to change and openly talk about the mistakes that were made in the past – we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore and we should get rid of ancient dogmas and stereotypes about the LGBT community, lest more people fall victim to the intolerance and hate.

On the eve of the Victory Day, the LKS urges global leaders to admit the severe mistakes that have been made and to end the repressions against their own LGBT communities.

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New Social Compact

Farveez Maharoof explains the importance of spreading social awareness via cricket

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Image source: skysports.com

Cricket legend Farveez Maharoof recently played in the Road Safety World Series to spread awareness about road safety. The Road Safety World Series was being played in Raipur to spread awareness about road safety in India. Modern Diplomacy talks to Farveez Maharoof about why cricket is a good platform to spread awareness about social causes.

Why is cricket a good platform to spread awareness about social causes?

Cricketers have a huge following specially in Asia. Both India and Sri Lanka have a very high number of cricket fans. When cricketers speak about an issue, their fans and viewers listen to them. Moreover, it is the social responsibility of people with a platform to spread awareness for causes. Personally, I have been a part of many social campaigns in Sri Lanka. I think it is my duty to raise awareness about social issues. The Road Safety World Series spread awareness at a more global scale.

What was your most inspiring moment during the Road Safety World Series?

 Personally, I was inspired to play in the Road Safety World Series even after retirement because the series is being played for a cause. Road Safety impacts people across the world and I think it is important for people to take it seriously. I feel strongly about the issue of road safety because I lost my uncle in an accident. It affected my family deeply. I want to spread awareness about it so that others are more careful when on the roads.

Did you campaign for road safety via your personal Instagram too? How did your audience respond?

 I was not required to campaign on my social media. I did because I felt strongly about the issue. Moreover, because I have a decent number of followers on Instagram, I thought it was a good platform to spread awareness about the cause. When many cricketers post about the same issue together, it gets more highlighted in the audience’s mind. I personally use my social media for raising awareness about issues in Sri Lanka as well.

Why is road safety important to you at a personal level?

My family lost my uncle in a road accident in Canada. My mother was affected very deeply by the incident. The effects of the accident were long lasting on my family emotionally. I have always been very serious about road safety after that. The reason I played for the Road Safety World Series is because I felt strongly about the issue and wanted to play for the cause of road safety.

How is playing a series during the pandemic different from pre pandemic times?

 Playing cricket during the pandemic is very different. We are not used to being in bio bubbles and staying quarantined at the hotel. There has been a shift in the way we have to live during the tournaments. Moreover, there are many COVID safety protocols to be ensured while we are travelling. These protocols are essential and should be followed.

The Road Safety World Series was actually being played in Mumbai last year. However, when COVID hit, the series had to be paused and postponed in between. After almost one year, the series resumed in Raipur. Hence, COVID has affected sports deeply.

What are other social causes that you are passionate about?

I am passionate about social causes which affect Sri Lanka. In the past, I have campaigned for many causes in Sri Lanka including breast cancer. I am someone who likes to stay connected to my roots. I want to give back to the community in every way I can because I have been blessed with their support. I will continue with social work and I will continue spreading awareness about causes.

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