The pandemic is hurting women more than men

Mary Koczan, left, and Dennis Arnott, with his wife Jane, work on decorating, Saturday, August 22, 2020, in Sheboygan, Wis., Arnott's 1967 VW bus before a parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote

At the outset of the pandemic earlier this year, people in high places said that the coronavirus was shaping up to be the "great equalizer." But, in fact, the twin health and economic effects of the pandemic have been anything but equal. The poor have suffered and died more than the rich. Ethnic minorities in Europe and the US have borne the brunt. Pre-existing inequalities have been exposed, and deepened, by the disease.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the pandemic's disproportionate impact on women. What are the particular challenges for women in this crisis, and what does recovery look like for over half of the world's population?


Health impacts and inequality. One major impact of the lockdowns for millions of women and girls around the world has been to limit their access to reproductive and sexual health services, particularly in developing countries.

The United Nations Population Fund predicts that there could be as many as 7 million unintended pregnancies globally this year because of COVID-related lockdowns, as well as transport and personnel shortages that have made it impossible for many to access abortions and contraception over the past six months.

Consider that in India, for example, almost three quarters of abortions are for medical purposes up to 7 weeks gestation. Indeed, research already shows that millions of Indian and Nepalese women — particularly those living in rural areas — have been impeded from accessing crucial medical care.

This isn't just an issue in the developing world. Even before the pandemic, many women's healthcare needs in America went unmet because of a lack of access. And the issue is even more dire for women of color. Black women in the United States were 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, while infant mortality rates were also disproportionately high for non-white Americans.

Indeed, unequal access to quality healthcare for women in developed countries like the US and the UK has been further compounded by the pandemic, which has overwhelmed hospitals in many cities and exhausted medical supply chains.

Disproportionate economic pain. Women have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19's economic aftershocks in two key ways.

First, at least 740 million women, 58 percent of the global female labor force, are employed in the "informal economy" — jobs that are not officially registered and therefore are mostly not eligible for benefits or social safety net provisions. (Nearly a fifth of all workers in the US have jobs in the informal sector.) This was the case back in March when the US Congress passed major relief measures — totaling more than $2 trillion — that did not extend adequate support for informal workers.

In low-income countries, meanwhile, a whopping 92 percent of women work in the informal sector. Clearly, the pandemic's economic burden disproportionately falls on women who are more likely to toil in the hard-hit informal and casual sectors.

Second, as a result of longstanding wage inequality and structural biases in recruitment, women were already at a disadvantage securing well-paying jobs and integrating into the workforce. Research shows that women also still shoulder the majority of unpaid domestic care work. That means that in places where schools and daycares were (or are) closed, childcare responsibilities have overwhelmingly fallen on women, preventing them from re-entering the workforce. There's precedent for this, too. Data shows that after the recent Ebola epidemic in Africa (2013-2016), women were disproportionately affected by job losses and took way longer to land steady jobs again after the crisis.

Gender-based violence: the shadow pandemic. While quarantines and lockdowns have helped curb the coronavirus' spread, they have also heightened the danger to women who live with abusive partners or family members.

In Colombia, for example, calls to domestic violence hotlines rose 90 percent after the government first called for mandatory lockdowns this past spring, while the EU said that domestic violence had risen by as much as 30 percent in some countries — a scourge the UN referred to as the "shadow pandemic," and a gross human rights violation.

Many observers fear that recent events will undo years of progress on mitigating gender-based violence, particularly in Latin America where protests against femicide (the killing of women) mobilized thousands of women earlier this year. It's within this context that Clare Wenham, a global-health policy expert, recently told The Atlantic that "the distorting effects of an epidemic can last for years," referring to the challenge of stopping the unraveling of decades of social progress.

Takeaway: Women, a majority of the world's population, are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Without addressing that aspect of recovery, there cannot, in a meaningful sense, be a real recovery at all.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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