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Women 'excluded' from COVID-19 task forces

Government efforts to fight the pandemic include just one woman for every three men on average, according to UNDP, which urged more gender equality.

In the U.S., registered nurse Deanna Hill manages New York operations for mass COVID-19 vaccinations
In the U.S., registered nurse Deanna Hill manages New York operations for mass COVID-19 vaccinations at Manhattan's Javits Convention Center in January (AN/Sebastian Rothwyn)

Government efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic include just one woman for every three men on average around the world, according to new research on Monday from the United Nations Development Program, which urged more gender equality in the decision-making.

Women comprised just 24% of the 225 coronavirus task forces tallied among 137 nations; women were entirely excluded from 26 task forces. The data for UNDP's COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker policy tool also involved U.N. Women and University of Pittsburgh's Gender Inequality Research Lab, or GIRL.

“Women have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, making up 70% of health care workers globally. However, they have been systematically excluded from the decision-making processes on how to address the impacts of the pandemic," UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said in a statement.

"This eye-opening new data shows, for instance, that only eight countries in the world have COVID-19 task forces with gender parity,” he said. “Women’s full and inclusive participation in public institutions is critical to ensure their needs are adequately addressed in the pivotal decisions now being made — these are choices that will determine their futures for generations to come.”

''Inconceivable' to exclude women

The data showed only 13% of 2,280 virus-related measures used by governments as fiscal, social protection and labor fixes had something to do with women's economic security. Most of the cash assistance or food aid for women has been relatively small and temporary, lasting about 3 months on average. Just 11% of the measures helped unpaid caregivers and domestic workers, whose ranks are overwhelmingly women.

About 20% of the measures offered paid family or sick leave; 15% provided child care; and 5% had flexible work arrangements. But most of these were all in wealthier nations across Europe and the Americas.

“It is inconceivable that we can address the most discriminatory crisis we have ever experienced without full engagement of women,” U.N. Women's Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said of a pandemic that has infected 123 million people and killed 2.7 million worldwide.

“At the moment, men have given themselves the impossible task of making the right decisions about women without the benefit of women’s insights," she said. "This needs to be set right without delay so we can work together on a future that is equitable, gender-responsive and greener.”

Earlier this month, UNICEF reported child marriage is increasing with up to 10 million more girls at risk of becoming brides before the age of 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.N. children’s agency said the virus profoundly affects girls' lives through school closures, disrupted health services and family financial pressures.