On 6 May 2020, the International Gender Champions network held its third session of a new webinar series entitled "COVID-19 & Gender Equality: Living up to the Challenge".

This webinar series provided an opportunity to International Gender Champions and their teams to better navigate the immense choices facing decision-makers in light of the COVID-19 crisis and its disproportionate negative impact on women. Throughout the series, participants discussed and explored how to embed better policies and practices, both within their organisations and in their programmatic work.

The third session entitled "'Build back better’: Shaping a gender-equitable post-COVID-19 world" was moderated by  H.E. Mr. Valentin Zellweger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva. Some key takeaways from the panel discussion are highlighted below: 

H.E. Ms. Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York

  • Our approach should be two-fold: 1) women are disproportionately affected by this crisis, 2) they should be regarded as crucial actors of this crisis to build a better future.

  • Proactive measures should be taken in light of the differentiated impact of the crisis on women and girls to promote women’s employment, improve flexibility in the organization of work, break down barriers in access to entrepreneurship, counter gender-based violence. Post-Covid-19 recovery strategies should encompass actions to increase women’s access to labour markets, strengthen family support services, facilitate work-life balance.

  • The Italian Government has taken a number of measures in this field. A taskforce representing women in such areas as science and humanities was established to support the government with ideas and proposals for post-Covid-19 policies. Special measures were undertaken to combat gender-based violence (for example housing solutions, awareness campaigns, psychological support, hotlines and apps). Italy increased by 5 million euros the special section of its fund for small and medium enterprises dedicated to female entrepreneurship. Extraordinary leave for parents to support them throughout school closures was also granted.

  • International cooperation is key to solving these challenges, including at the EU level.

Dr. Khalid Koser, Executive Director, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF)

  • What is the problem? The link between Covid-19 and violent extremism is not from the virus itself but from the response: 1) Lockdown and social distancing policies: Large numbers of young people are at home and using the internet, which puts them at higher risk of radicalisation; 2) Some governments are instrumentalizing the pandemic to their own benefits: this has an impact on civil liberties and state resources. It risks undermining confidence between people and their governments; 3) Some government responses are inefficient: Some health systems are overwhelmed and some governments are absent in some territories, which implies that some terrorist groups will fill the vacuum of power.

  • What needs to be done? 1) Governments need to address the secondary unintended consequences of their policies. 2) Increased transparency and accountability, 3) Increased humanitarian aid where needed, 4) Not divert funds away from the fight against violent extremism at a time when we need them most, 5) Build trust at community-level

  • Women are key change agents in communities. If they are not involved, efforts to build engagement and resilience will not succeed. And yet, at the moment, women in those communities are the most silenced and the most affected.

Ms. Dorothy Tembo, Executive Director, International Trade Centre

  • Business is key to recovery and should be addressed along with health system challenges.

  • The crisis has made pre-existing inequalities worse: women are earning less and this is likely to worsen in many countries post-Covid-19, women running small businesses are unable to cross borders for business purposes and this has halted activity in many cases, sectors where women are the most engaged are those that are the most hit by the crisis (tourism, agriculture etc).

  • ITC is working on various aspects to support SMEs: 1) Virtual learning tools such as webinars to provide support; 2) Promoting access to finance: working with businesses to better prepare as well as to establish new sources of finance; 3) Raising SDG investment fund of 500 million dollars; 4) Continued work on gender-smart procurement

  • This crisis may help shape more gender-equitable trade in the long-term if we seize the opportunity.

Ms. Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director, UN Global Compact

  • Before the pandemic – economic gender parity was already a major challenge. Covid-19 has put gender equality under increased pressure.

  • We already have good guidance on this issue with among others, Women’s Economic Empowerment Principles, launched by UN Women and the UN Global Compact 10 years ago. Over 3,000 companies around the world have committed to undertake seven principles to promote women in their organizations.

  • But we need companies to be more ambitious. For example, Natura – a member of the UN Global Compact – launched a website to encourage women around the world to come forward and speak up around domestic violence (#IsolatedNotAlone). Other companies are offering flexible-working arrangements or supporting their supply chains. UN Global Compact members have been encouraged to apply the Principles to their Covid-19 response and some have shared their experience on the Compact’s website.

  • With regards to the SDGs, the biggest gaps are on climate and inequality. The UN Global Compact therefore launched an initiative for members to set ambitious targets to accelerate progress. Bringing about change has become a necessity with this crisis, as we need to build new norms and practices.