In 1949, in her essay "The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvoir appealed: "Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis will be enough for women's rights to be called into question. These rights are never taken for granted. You must remain vigilant throughout your lives"[i]. Her words make more sense today, in 2023 when in the wake of the socio-economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the advances of backlash movements, we are witnessing how the gender equality agenda has been affected and how in many countries, the inequality gaps between men and women are widening.
The world's standstill due to the pandemic, the confinement scenarios and the socio-economic crisis brought a slowdown on the road to gender equality. We have faced disproportionate effects on women and girls in two ways: (I) the pandemic affected sectors where women are mainly employed (health sector, tourism, commerce), also considering that in Latin America and the Caribbean, 54% of women were in informality; (II) the closure of schools, kindergartens, and nurseries increased the overload of care at home, which made the care crisis even more latent.
The time has come to think of different ways of acting and doing to accelerate the fulfilment of the women's rights agenda. At UN Women, we insisted on the call for States to put women at the centre of economic reactivation, to invest in the creation and implementation of comprehensive care systems, to advance gender-sensitive budgets, and to speed up the pace towards closing the digital gap.
Real advances to women's rights agenda need real budget allocations.
To achieve this, the States needed to make progress in strengthening their planning and budgeting exercises, mainstreaming the gender approach in it. This is one of the most transformative and powerful strategies for achieving gender equality and women's rights. It contributes to having real resources to move toward closing the gaps between men and women. It is about ensuring the efficient and strategic use of resources aligned with the political vision of closing the gaps.
Since the early 2000s, the countries of the European Union have been working on implementing a public planning and budgeting strategy with a gender perspective. In spite of this, in many of them, there is still a need to establish indicators that allow for greater monitoring of the resources invested in the advancement of women's rights. In Latin America, steps are being taken, and countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina now have gender equality budget tracers. Specifically, Colombia has consolidated the use of a budget tracker as well as an annual report on how and where resources are invested in advancing the women's rights agenda.
How can the care economy be an accelerator of productivity?
On the other hand, an accelerator of women's economic recovery is to ensure that women's unpaid care burdens - one of the main barriers women face in entering and remaining in the labour market - are reduced, recognised and redistributed. Prior to COVID-19, women spent three times as much time as men on unpaid care work, and the pandemic made it clear that this distribution of care is not sustainable. Thanks to care work, societies and economies are maintained and advanced, but this comes at the cost of women's autonomy and rights, expelling them from the labour market, economy, and social and political participation.
According to ECLAC, in the Latin American countries that measure care in their satellite accounts, unpaid care represents approximately 20% of GDP, and women provide 70% of this care.[ii] In the European Union, it represents 17% of GDP.
In November 2022, in Argentina, in the framework of the XV Regional Conference on Women, the Buenos Aires Commitment was agreed upon. This made a strong call to Latin American states to recognise the right to care, consolidate care societies,[iii] and establish a roadmap to promote comprehensive care policies and systems, decent employment, and women’s full and equal participation in leadership positions and strategic sectors of the economy.
From UN Women in Colombia, we are supporting this call. At the local level, together with the Mayor's Office of Bogotá, the District Care System was created, which incorporates a comprehensive care approach involving the district and national government, the private sector, communities, and households. It is considered an innovative and unique model in Latin America that seeks to alleviate women's care burden and move towards more sustainable models.
Close the digital divide and ensure that technology is used to advance women's rights.
The pandemic also exacerbated structural inequalities; for example, rural women, female heads of households with young children, as well as indigenous and Afro-descendant women have not only experienced the most significant impacts of the socio-economic crisis but have also had the hardest time reactivating themselves economically. One of the reasons has been associated with gaps in technology access, which did not allow them to have alternatives for education or employability during the pandemic.
In this regard, the 67th Commission on the Status of Women (held in March 2023) focused on the need to take action to ensure that all women and girls have access to different information technologies, that there are more women in science, technology, and mathematics, and called on states to establish mechanisms to contain sexual violence and human trafficking that takes place through social networks.
According to the latest UN Women report, at the current pace, it will take 300 years to achieve equality between men and women. It is time to step on the accelerator, and we cannot wait any longer. The deadline of the 2030 agenda is fast approaching, and achieving gender equality will require all of society and its actors to commit to building a 50/50, more diverse, and inclusive world, leaving no one behind.
In addition to the political will of states, there is a fundamental element in this struggle: the role of feminist movements. Both in the European Union and Latin America, they have led the great struggles for advancing women's rights. Now is the time to unite more than ever to contain the setbacks in the women's rights agenda. The current context calls for determination, courage, and joint strategy. We cannot allow anything to divert us from the goal of not taking a step backwards and continuing to expand women's rights worldwide.
[i] Simone de Beauvoir. The Second Sex (1949)
[ii] ECLAC (2023) “El Compromiso de Buenos Aires da pautas sobre cómo superar la crisis del cuidado que afecta la región, dice CEPAL” https://www.cepal.org/es/notas/compromiso-buenos-aires-pautas-como-superar-la-crisis-cuidado-que-afecta-la-region-dice-cepal
[iii] ECLAC (2022) “The care society: A horizon for sustainable recovery with gender equality” https://conferenciamujer.cepal.org/15/es/documentos/la-sociedad-cuidado-horizonte-recuperacion-sostenible-igualdad-genero