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Spotlight on women, COVID-19 and SDGs

Mask distribution by Kamalini students, India

The COVID-19 crisis offers a valuable opportunity to reassess the SDGs framework and ensure that women and girls are at the centre of its agenda.

International leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in 2015 and created the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals, to end extreme poverty by 2030. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is making these goals increasingly difficult to reach.

The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the extreme vulnerabilities of populations living in poverty and on the margins of society. The crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities and structural barriers, particularly in relation to women’s limited access to decent work and education. It is therefore crucial that women’s economic and social rights are put at the centre of all plans for economic recovery and resilience and at the top of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Historically, women are especially vulnerable during crises. COVID-19 is no different and already domestic violence, child marriage, and FGM is on the rise. With schools and child care services closed, women and girls are taking on the brunt of household chores and caregiving responsibilities. Globally, women make up 70 per cent of the health and social care workforce, and they are more likely to be front-line health workers, especially nurses, midwives and community health workers.

The pandemic is laying bare women’s precarious economic security, and threatens to trap and push millions more into extreme poverty.

The pandemic is laying bare women’s precarious economic security, and threatens to trap and push millions more into extreme poverty. Globally, at least 193 million women and girls aged 15+ are living on less than $1.90 a day. Around the world, 740 million women work in the informal economy, and their income fell by 60 percent during the first month of the pandemic. Around 7 in 10 workers in essential occupations are women and 2 in 3 teaching professionals are women. They will likely be highly exposed to the virus with the reopening of educational institutions. These numbers highlight the fact that women and girls must be at the centre of COVID-19 global prevention, response and recovery efforts.

The recent shift towards online education also has a negative impact for women. Globally, here is a substantial digital divide between women and men: an estimated 327 million fewer women have access to a smartphone as compared to men. For families living in poverty and facing harsh economic realities of the pandemic, the purchase of data and technology might not be possible. Because of inaccessibility to digital tools some young women may never catch up on their education and will continue to feel the effect of this gap long after the pandemic is over.

This technological divide has made it hard for many women we work with to follow their education during the pandemic. Peace, a student at Wavecrest College of Hospitality in Nigeria, told us: “My biggest challenge with studying online is the lack of data, sometimes it is bad network and electricity”. We are working with our partners around the world to bridge this gender and technology gap. Giving women access to technology will also help them garner the necessary skills to stay ahead in the future and open up new opportunities for them. 

“My biggest challenge with studying online is the lack of data, sometimes it is bad network and electricity”

Peace, Nigeria

Throughout the pandemic, our partners have been adapting their programmes to ensure their students are prepared for work in a post COVID-19 world. The majority of our partners offer training for the hospitality sector. However, theses industries are becoming increasingly unstable so our partners are shifting their focus on developing entrepreneurship and business skills.

Ensuring the economic inclusion and empowerment of women has never been more important. As the pandemic threatens progress made towards gender equality, it is vital to support women’s access to employment and digital technology. The COVID-19 crisis also offers a valuable opportunity to reassess the SDGs framework and ensure that women and girls are at the centre of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Author: Marianne Arnshof, WONDER Foundation volunteer