The United Nations is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened gender inequality and could reverse decades of progress on women's rights.
That's in part because women have been on the front lines of pandemic response efforts as health care workers, teachers and essential staff, but they're significantly less represented in decision-making roles, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this week. The pandemic also has affected women's physical and mental health (as funding for virus relief is redirected from maternal and reproductive health services, Guterres said), education and participation in the workforce, in many cases forcing them out of school or their careers, he said.
Moreover, there is evidence that the pandemic is contributing to "skyrocketing levels" of gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women as the victims, he said.
“In short,” he said during Monday's town hall, “the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating the considerable hurdles women face in achieving their rights and fulfilling their potential. ... Progress lost may take years, even generations, to recover.”
To prevent the backslide of women's rights, Guterres believes that women must be at the center of coronavirus recovery efforts.
How might this look in Missouri, or more specifically, in the Joplin area?
It should mean that nonprofits offering women's shelters and domestic violence services, including Lafayette House in Joplin and Safehouse Crisis Center in Pittsburg, Kansas, are deemed essential services and are prioritized when it comes to funding opportunities.
It should mean that employers reassess their employees' wages and commit to shoring up the gender-based pay gap so that women aren't continuing to be harmed by low pay. Women still make 82 cents on the dollar compared with men, and the disparity is even greater for many women of color or women with disabilities.
It should mean that women are brought to the table so that they make up half of the voices deciding things such as when to lift stay-at-home orders or how schools should reopen.
It should mean that child care and day care services are subsidized for low-income women. This would not only support a field in which a majority of business owners and workers are women, but it also would allow women who are parents to remain in the workforce, even if schools are closed.
It will take a lot of work to rebuild our lives after the pandemic has passed, and we should do so in a way that is equitable and inclusive. Women have made too much progress to let our society risk losing it all now.