Tracking a gender-sensitive and green COVID-19 recovery

A joint article by UNDP, UN Women and OECD

March 7, 2022

UNDP India

This year’s International Women’s Day theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, puts a spotlight on the role of women and girls in the fight against climate change. Yet International Women's Day takes place again in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The feminization of poverty keeps growing, the climate emergency is worsening, conflicts and violence are raging, and the international immunization effort is not moving fast enough.  

In the context of the global pandemic, emergency government measures and stimulus packages have played a key role in supporting households and businesses throughout the pandemic, but have largely failed women. At the same time, environmental crises loom in the backdrop. As countries work to recover from COVID-19, governments have a unique opportunity to take steps towards gender-equitable, greener and fairer societies, a goal that was embraced by most in the early days of the pandemic.

To make this a reality, we must shift fiscal and other support to productive investments and sustainable consumption and production patterns that promote gender equality and strengthen inclusive and sustainable growth. It is also imperative to align policy measures with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2050 net zero emissions goal that many countries have committed to. Putting the rights of women and girls at the centre of transitions to green economies provides an opportunity to address underlying inequalities and secure a more equal and sustainable future for all.

A gender-environment nexus in recovery policies

Considering the gender-environment nexus in recovery measures can help us to respond with an innovative, integrated approach to bolster the economy, take climate action, and move closer to gender equality. As a first step, it is crucial to understand how environmental degradation, natural disasters, and climate change affect women differently than men because of different socio-economic and other discriminatory factors. For instance, women are more likely than men to lose their livelihoods, especially in developing regions, due to increased incidences of natural hazards such as droughts, landslides, floods or hurricanes. At the same time, it is essential to consider how achieving a net-zero transition can broaden women’s economic opportunities and deliver positive impacts on environmental aspects of the 2030 Agenda.

As governments consider global environmental goals, fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to shift their focus to the public health crises and economic setbacks. Addressing these challenges requires a large-scale government response, which provides the opportunity to build forward better, with greater equality, resilience, and sustainability at the centre of the policymaking. By integrating a gender perspective into environmental policies, governments will be better able to harness the synergies in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda. At the same time, policy design that incorporates gender equality considerations, including supporting women’s economic empowerment and social security, addressing unpaid care work, and combating gender-based violence, can also have positive environmental impacts. These policies could ensure equal access for women to resources and opportunities by building better and more effective healthcare, education and skills systems, increasing food security and access to decent jobs.

Combining the goals of environmental protection with gender equality can ensure that post-COVID-19 economies and societies move towards a more sustainable and resilient path and that no one is left behind. Yet to transform goals into policy actions, governments must first know which policy measures are likely to have positive impacts on gender equality and the environment. However, there is still a limited understanding of this nexus and supporting evidence on applying integrated policy and governance frameworks that fully recognise the synergies between gender equality and green recovery. Tracking green and gender-sensitive measures provides a potential pathway for governments that want to build forward better from the pandemic.

The UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker reveals that the COVID-19 response has been largely gender blind. Though 163 governments have taken 853 measures to address violence against women during the pandemic, only 18 percent of the 4,115 fiscal, social protection, and labour market measures taken in response to COVID-19 target women’s economic security or unpaid care work. Furthermore, it is not surprising that women have been largely excluded from national COVID-19 task forces. The Gender Tracker finds that of 431 task forces from 187 countries, women make up only 24 percent of task force members and 18 percent of task force leaders. Recent OECD work on tracking green recovery measures further shows there are relatively few measures that are considered gender-relevant in OECD countries. Of 705 green recovery measures assessed for gender relevance, only 2.5 percent were considered as such. On the upside, a majority of these gender-relevant measures have a likely positive environmental impact, and support women’s economic security in sectors such as energy, transport and buildings.

A COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker with a green lens

To align these efforts and track green and gender-sensitive measures, UNDP is collaborating with OECD and UN Women to integrate a green lens in the COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker (“gender-green tracker”). This work is part of the Feminist Action for Climate Justice Action Coalition, which launched at the Generation Equality Forum in 2021. The new tool, planned for release in June 2022, combines data from the UNDP-UN Women COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker and the OECD Green Recovery Database and maps existing gender-sensitive and green-recovery measures in more than 200 countries and territories. A green analysis will be applied to all social protection, labour, economic and fiscal, and violence against women measures included in the UNDP-UN Women’s COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker. It will identify measures that are designed to be gender-sensitive and have environmental considerations or an expected positive impact towards environmental sustainability, as well as apply an environmental lens to national COVID-19 task forces.

The gender-green tracker will provide governments and decision makers with a concrete overview of whether and to what extent country measures are gender- and environment-sensitive as well as showcase what works through examples of countries already pursuing an inclusive, gender-responsive and green recovery. The goal is to highlight both gaps and good practices, which can provide valuable insights to countries in the design and implementation of post-COVID recovery measures and inspire them to review approaches and introduce innovative policies to further enhance the gender-environment nexus in recovery responses. With this new tool, policy makers will be better placed to build policy responses that put gender equality and sustainability at the centre of recovery and transformation, bringing us closer to more gender-equal and greener world.

Also written by: OECD - Sigita Strumskyte, Co-ordinator for SDGs and Gender, Environment Directorate; Dimitra Xynou, Policy Analyst, Environment Directorate, and UN Women - Silke Staab, Research Specialist; Constanza Tabbush, Research Specialist.