This year the world is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25), the most visionary agenda for achieving gender equality. While the COVID-19 crisis has overshadowed or postponed some of the commemoration flagship events and outcomes, it has not changed the fact that the Beijing agenda remains a universal blueprint for humanity, guided by the vision of a more gender equal world.
We have seen gender equality and women’s rights advance immensely since the adoption of the declaration, including major success stories in education and health. Between 1995 and 2018, the number of girls of primary and lower-secondary school age who are out of school nearly halved. The global maternal mortality ratio declined by 38 percent from 2000 to 2017.
While we celebrate this tremendous progress, the reality is that the change has been too slow. Now the COVID-19 crisis threatens to further set us back, undoing many of the gains on gender equality over the past 25 years. The pandemic is exacerbating existing gender inequalities and hitting women hard. As we saw in two dashboards UNDP released earlier this year, women carry a greater burden of unpaid care and domestic work, they have limited access to social protection, and experience pervasive violence, all of which are now worsening due to COVID-19.
These consequences may further widen the gender poverty gap. New research from UNDP, UN Women and the Pardee Centre for International Futures at the University of Denver shows that the COVID-19 crisis will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women. It forecasts that by 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women.
However, as colleagues gather today for the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, it is a good reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. The pandemic also provides us with an opportunity to do things differently. The theme of today’s meeting is "accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls," and we can do this if countries take a stronger gender-sensitive approach for human development for all.
To help countries achieve this, we launched the COVID-19 Global Gender Tracker earlier this week. Coordinated by UNDP, with substantive technical leadership from UN Women and co-created by both agencies, monitors policy measures enacted by governments worldwide to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, and highlights responses that have integrated a gender lens. It includes over 2,500 national measures across 206 countries and territories that are directly addressing women’s economic and social security, including unpaid care work, the labour market, and violence against women.
The tracker shows that global economic, social protection and labour market responses to COVID-19 have been, so far, largely blind to women’s needs. It also illustrates, however, how some countries have chosen to prioritize gender equality in their COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and their innovative approaches. Pakistan has used digital technology to scale up an emergency cash programme and provided benefits to 4.5 million women. Our hope is that the tracker will encourage governments to learn from these lessons and to advocate for a gender-sensitive approach to the pandemic, keeping gender equality front and centre.
As we continue to commemorate Beijing+25 next year, let’s work together to seize this opportunity to shift the existing economic model towards a renewed social contract that prioritizes social justice and gender equality, further advancing the vision laid out in Beijing 25 years ago.