Women in Europe should be given “greater economic independence” through equal pay, childcare support and the sharing of domestic duties to ensure that they do not fall into poverty, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Olivier De Shutter recently conducted a two-month mission to the European Union, where women are more likely to fall into poverty than men, a situation that has further deteriorated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN News spoke to Mr. De Shutter ahead of International Women’s Day marked annually on 8 March.
Why are women more likely to be affected by poverty than men in the EU?
Women are disproportionately more at risk of poverty compared to men (22.3 per cent compared to 20.4 per cent in the EU). What is perhaps even more striking is that for older women, particularly having reached pension age, the gaps are significantly higher (averaging 37.2% across the EU).
There is still a division of roles between women and men within households that makes it more difficult for women to seek long-term, full-time employment. Women’s careers are often interrupted to take care of children, and many more women work on a part-time basis, so the level of pensions they receive is much lower.
The majority of lone-parent households are also headed by women, and no less than 40 per cent of these families are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
That is a huge percentage. Social protection systems have not been truly responsive to changing family patterns and women are disproportionately affected by this situation.
What has been the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women?
Unfortunately, I am afraid the pandemic shall mean a significant step backwards in terms of gender equality. The crisis will probably lead to many more women than men having to renounce full-time jobs. Moreover, the closure of schools has increased the burden on women, who take care of children more than men.
However, there has also been a growing awareness that the essential functions they fulfil in the healthcare sector and care-economy are under-estimated. My hope is that these essential workers, the majority of whom are women, shall be better paid and have improved employment contracts in the future.
What should be done to combat poverty for everyone?
The COVID-19 crisis, for all the human suffering it inflicts, is an opportunity to reopen the debate as to which kind of society we want.
We need to build a society that has an inclusive economy that gives each individual a fair chance to make a decent living. That means fighting discrimination against people in poverty, creating more job opportunities for people with low levels of qualifications, and investing in people’s education and life-long training to ensure all people have a chance to compete. It goes far beyond the usual idea that we need just to create wealth and redistribute it afterwards.
Can you share any testimonies of the women you spoke to as part of your mission?
Behind the figures are real people who have most extraordinary things to say. I met a woman who was receiving food parcels but had no kitchen to cook the food she received. I met women who discovered there was not enough space in shelters they sought to join because they were fleeing domestic violence. The shelters had been overcrowded since the crisis because of the heightened rates of domestic violence.
What needs to be done to improve the situation for women in the EU?
Ultimately, it requires a new distribution of roles within the household, and without that change occurring it will be very difficult to overcome the existing gaps.
EU Member States should also invest more in early childhood education and care to allow women to take up full-time jobs. This would give greater economic independence, allowing them to make their own choices in life.
There should also be greater transparency in the wage policies of companies to ensure the principal of equal pay for work of equal value is complied with. We must overcome the 14% gender pay gap without further delay.
What drives you do to the work you do?
I have had a privileged existence and feel indebted as a result, and therefore believe it is the most natural thing to do to give a voice to those who have been silenced until now.
People in poverty have been treated as a problem to be taken care of but not as actors who have experiences that we can learn from. I see my role as giving a voice to these people and as a result to have policies that are much better informed by their lived experiences. I think it is the best way to improve our ability to combat poverty and reduce inequalities.
Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns
Travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic have been particularly hard on refugees and migrants who move out of necessity, stranding millions from home, the UN migration agency, IOM, said on Thursday.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the first year of the pandemic saw more than 111,000 travel restrictions and border closures around the world at their peak in December.
These measures “have thwarted many people’s ability to pursue migration as a tool to escape conflict, economic collapse, environmental disaster and other crises”, IOM maintained.
In mid-July, nearly three million people were stranded, sometimes without access to consular assistance, nor the means to meet their basic needs.
In Panama, the UN agency said that thousands were cut off in the jungle while attempting to travel north to the United States; in Lebanon, migrant workers were affected significantly by the August 2020 explosion in Beirut and the subsequent surge of COVID-19 cases.
Business as usual
Border closures also prevented displaced people from seeking refuge, IOM maintained, but not business travellers, who “have continued to move fairly freely”, including through agreed ‘green lanes’, such as the one between Singapore and Malaysia.
By contrast, those who moved out of necessity – such as migrant workers and refugees – have had to absorb expensive quarantine and self-isolation costs, IOM said, noting that in the first half of 2020, asylum applications fell by one-third, compared to the same period a year earlier.
As the COVID crisis continues, this distinction between those who can move and those who cannot, will likely become even more pronounced, IOM said, “between those with the resources and opportunities to move freely, and those whose movement is severely restricted by COVID-19-related or pre-existing travel and visa restrictions and limited resources”.
This inequality is even more likely if travel is allowed for anyone who has been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID-19, or for those with access to digital health records – an impossibility for many migrants.
Frontier lockdowns also reduced options for those living in overcrowded camps with high coronavirus infection rates in Bangladesh and Greece, IOM’s report indicated.
In South America, meanwhile, many displaced Venezuelans in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Brazil, lost their livelihoods and some have sought to return home – including by enlisting the services of smugglers.
Clashes in Myanmar displace thousands
Clashes between the Myanmar security forces and regional armed groups, which have involved military airstrikes, have reportedly claimed the lives of at least 17 civilians in several parts of the country, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday.
In a humanitarian update, issued on Tuesday, the Office also noted unconfirmed reports of several thousand people fleeing the hostilities in recent days in the Kayin and Bago regions, in central Myanmar, near Yangon. A medical clinic is also reported to have been damaged in gunfire in a township in Mon state, also in the central part of the country.
An estimated 7,100 civilians are now internally displaced in the two regions due to indiscriminative attacks by the Myanmar Armed Forces (MAF), and the Karen National Union (KNU), as well as growing insecurity since December 2020, according to the update.
“UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] is engaging with partners on the ground to explore possibilities to deliver critical humanitarian assistance and support to the displaced. A further 3,848 people in Kayin State have crossed the border to Thailand since 27 March, due to fears of further hostilities in the area”, OCHA said.
The majority are believed to have returned to Myanmar with Thai authorities saying that 1,167 remain in Thailand as of 1 April, the Office added.
‘Deep concern’ over continued impact of the crisis
Meanwhile, the wider political crisis across Myanmar continues to hit life hard across the southeast Asian nation.
The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has received credible reports of at least 568 women, children and men, have been killed since the military coup on 1 February, though there are fears that total is likely much higher.
Concerns have also been raised over the impact on Myanmar’s health and education systems, as well as the long-term effects of the violence on children.
The longer the current situation of widespread violence continuous, the more it will contribute to a continuous state of distress and toxic stress for children, which can have a lifelong impact on their mental and physical health, senior UN officials warned last week.
Since 1 February, there have been at least 28 attacks against hospitals and health personnel and seven attacks against schools and school personnel, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters at a press briefing at the UN Headquarters, in New York, on Tuesday.
“Attacks against health volunteers and against ambulances are preventing life-saving help from reaching civilians wounded by security forces,” he added.
UN agencies have also reported reported sharp increases in food and fuel prices in many parts of Myanmar, on the back of supply chain and market disruptions. Humanitarians worry that if the price trends continue, they will “severely undermine” the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.
Guterres: Use COVID-19 recovery to make inclusion ‘a reality’
Building a more inclusive and accessible world that recognizes the contributions of all people, including persons with disabilities must be a “key goal” as countries work to recover from COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary-General said on Friday, commemorating World Autism Awareness Day.
“The crisis has created new obstacles and challenges. But efforts to reignite the global economy offer an opportunity to reimagine the workplace to make diversity, inclusion and equity a reality”, Secretary-General António Guterres said.
“Recovery is also a chance to rethink our systems of education and training to ensure that persons with autism are afforded opportunities for realizing their potential”, he added.
Breaking ‘old habits’ crucial
Mr. Guterres also emphasized that breaking old habits will be crucial. For persons with autism, he added, access to decent work on an equal basis requires creating an enabling environment, along with reasonable accommodations.
“To truly leave no one behind in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, we must realize the rights of all persons with disabilities, including persons with autism, ensuring their full participation in social, cultural and economic life”, he said.
“Let us work together with all persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to find innovative solutions to recover better and build a better world for all.”
Inequalities worsened by COVID-19
Intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optimal development and well-being of persons with an ASD, WHO added, emphasizing the importance of monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child health care.
While some individuals with ASD are able to live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Persons with an ASD are also often subject to stigma and discrimination, including unjust deprivation of health care, education, protection under law, and opportunities to engage and participate in their communities.
The World Day
The World Autism Awareness Day, to be commemorated annually on 2 April, was established in December 2007 by the UN General Assembly, which affirmed that “ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities is critical to achieving internationally agreed development goals”.
The General Assembly also highlighted the importance of early diagnosis and appropriate research and interventions for the growth and development of the individual, and called for efforts to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding children with autism.
How to incorporate the environment in economic ventures for a sustainable future?
We are in the phase of world history where economic development and protection of environment must go side by side....
Future of Work: Next Election Agenda 2022
During the last millennia, never ever before did the global populace ended up inside one single test tube? Observe, the...
COVID-19 As an Agent of Change in World Order
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has claimed millions of lives. It has severely damaged the economy of the world....
Scaling Up Development Could Help Southern African leaders to Defeat Frequent Miltant Attacks
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are now considering, without foreign interference, tackling frequent insurgency devastating regional development,...
Israel and Turkey in search of solutions
Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense...
Peace, Problems and Perspectives in the Post-war South Caucasus
The Second Karabakh War ended with the signing of the trilateral declaration between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10,...
Vienna Process: Minilateralism for the future of Europe and its strategic neighbourhood
On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for...
South Asia3 days ago
US-China Developing Confrontation: India and QUAD
Human Rights3 days ago
Migrants left stranded and without assistance by COVID-19 lockdowns
South Asia2 days ago
United States snubs India for its excessive maritime claim
New Social Compact3 days ago
Reform of mental health services: An urgent need and a human rights imperative
Eastern Europe2 days ago
A Grey Swan: Is There a New Conflict in Donbass?
Economy2 days ago
Innovative ways to resume international travel
Environment3 days ago
New project to help 30 developing countries tackle marine litter scourge
Russia2 days ago
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass