Head of UN Women tells the FT about the impact of coronavirus on women | FT

UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks to the FT’s Vanessa Kortekaas about the role women are playing in the fight against the pandemic, why they must be visible on the global stage and the impact of this crisis on the fight for gender equality. See if you get the FT for free as a student ( or start a £1 trial:

So i want to start by looking at the immediate impact this crisis is having on women we know that un figures show 70 percent of health and social sexual workers globally are women so what impact is this having on women on the front line well women on the front line obviously exposed to the disease most of them unnecessary and in this situation where countries are

Running out of ppe they obviously in the front line without adequate protection women are also working long hours but all the health workers are men and women they are therefore very exhausted and they go home to continue to be caregivers to their families and their children and the level of exhaustion means that they need a lot of support to cope with the stress

They also use public transports in many cases because in most health institutions they are at the lower levels which means that their pay does not enable many of them to have their own private transports that means that same public transport they are also exposed to potential infection so you mentioned some of the the sort of risks that they face to their own

Health and what about on this socio-economic level this is having huge impacts on society as a whole but given that more women work in unsecured jobs or in the informal economy especially in developing countries what is that financial impact on them basically means that we may not driven to poverty because they do not have the means to look after themselves and

Their families if they are self-employed they usually do not have an easy concert and a connection to the government and other providers of the stimulus that could supports them but we also saying if there is going to be social protection and cash transfers this transfers must go directly to the hands of women in order to make sure that they are not lost in the

Family they actually enable the women to be the one that is in control of these resources even if women are in the formal sector they are still informal if you know what i’m saying because if they are waitresses sometimes they have the contracts that are not in any way binding to the employer if they work in the tourism sector it’s also a very loose arrangement so

They are not accounted for is as workers it’s not secured employment so when there are provisions employment benefits these benefits do not automatically accrued to them and then women you know in many african countries also work in agriculture in that sector also the isn’t adequate protection amid all the government bailouts and the stimulus packages that we’ve

Seen are you seeing any examples where they are where those measures are addressing women specifically in the needs that you just talked about well it’s a mixed bag they definitely are a governess who are targeting women and the packages meant to be for women south africa is one of those countries with the they are doing that but where they have a generic sme

Package a generic informal sector it is not automatic that the women will be a beneficiary and and what about the global leadership in this i have more un women un figures here showing that 25 percent of parliamentarians worldwide are women and only 10 percent of heads of government and heads of state are women worldwide are there enough female leaders making the

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Decisions about how to respond to the cova 19 crisis what definitely i mean let alone just women who are heads of states just women in the health sector who are decision-makers notwithstanding that the majority of the women of the people who work in the health center are women and there are lots of competent women this is one sex away we net we cannot complain about

A pipeline that doesn’t have people who can take senior position you could look for your self when you listen to briefings from different countries most of the time it is not women who are talking women are not the ones who are framing the response to the to the pandemic and we think this is the time to address the issue of representation of women in the health

Sector because medium to long term women are still going to be in the majority of those who are living in the health sector have you seen examples where leaders have specifically addressed that some women that women in some ways are disproportionately affected by this crisis have you seen that it’s not strong enough and the secretary general has already as one of

The global leaders that has already been calling for for that to be given attention what we are asking governments to do and leaders in general for instance on the case of violence against women is to make those who are providing services to women who are affected by violence those services must be declared essential service so that they are accessible throughout

This crisis we are also asking that there is better investment into those service providers with a ngo or government or churches or youth or community grassroots because they are really providing a service that is very critical at this time and this is the service that cannot be delayed because then every day we delay providing this as an essential service a woman

Is at risk and i was just gonna ask you about that i’ve seen them obviously one of the the horrible side effects of this crisis is a lot of reports of an increase in domestic violence we’ve seen countries like canada and france announced financial support to house women victims of domestic abuse what more needs to happen now and what will it take for leaders to

To listen to this and address it as an urgent problem well we have to keep on talking i’m glad that you are doing this with us essential service declaration that is so urgent and so much-needed investment in those institutions that are providing the service it’s excellent that’s canada in france in other is already providing a more safe houses and shelter for

The women hotlines are very critical because they are the ones that women can call in order to call and ask for help and we have been able to gather a lot of data from the headlines it tells you where the women is what the situation is but we’re also finding out that when women are calling to the hotlines they are also reporting that they are hungry they say they

Have been bitten at because their husband or partner is hungry and they expect her to be the one who’s finding the food so it is important that every country must have been helpline that is attended by social workers they also have to educate the police at first time to know how to respond and to make sure that they will be contacting the police they do not get a

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Runaround that leaves them frustrated so it sounds like there are many parts to that solution and the government’s government’s really need to address all of those factors to solve this problem no absolutely and the cost of giving this support for two women compared to some of the costs that the government’s attending to rescuing a airlines which i’m not saying

Is not important but the cost of servicing women is the fraction of that cost this is this is some of the interventions that can be done immediately and it is needed immediately that’s a really good point and looking back at the bigger picture what lessons do you think have been learned from previous pandemics so for example ebola that could be applied here to

To making sure that the issues that women are facing are being addressed more well first let me just talk about women who are migrants who are also in a very difficult situation in the countries that they are in away from some from their countries they are likely to be the ones that lose their jobs first and they are left with no income and far away from their

Relatives and loved ones the remittances that these women and in most cases are sent home to support families to support children to support old people so their suffering is extended also to the people they are supporting em at home and there we are finding that in the countries where the women also do not have ngos that are strong in in advocacy and therefore to

Advocate individually for themselves their voices can fall into deaf ears so the importance of having organized institutions that are raising the voices on behalf of those women who are not being held becomes very critical we also need to include women in the addressing of the issues and projects that’s publicly if you see all men talking about the pandemic you

Are giving the impression that women are not doing anything women rejects the fact that they just should be seen just as victims because they are actually providing services responses and contributing just as much so we need to to create spaces for them to actually play a role in showing to the nation that they are just assist with supporting their communities

As everyone else and just following on from that point what about the role in data in all this i mean the figures that we see every day are more focused on number of deaths and infections but what about data in relation to the knock-on effects for women of this crisis is is there a lack of that data and is that part of the problem yes it is part of the problem we

Are trying to get on top of that we are still struggling we are reaching out to governments and ministries asking them to disaggregate the data so that were able to do a better analysis i think that in the next two weeks we may be in a better place to give data that is much adequate and data that we can use in making intelligent analysis and specifically what what

Are you asking governments for what what sort of data are you referring to i mean even when we are just talking about deaths we would like it to be said if how many men how many women died if we’re providing a stimulus and cash transfers we would like it to be said how many the recipients were men how many recipients a with women if we’re talking about people who

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Are calling on hotlines to report because i mean this also is a very important way to talk directly to the women would like them to like to ask them questions how many are you in that house how many women are in the house who else is at risk are they children all of that it helps us helping us to put together the puzzle and just in terms of the knock-on effects

Of resources being diverted so obviously there’s a huge divergent of resources right now what does that mean for access to for example pre and postnatal care for women or other reproductive services that they need well you know whenever there is a crisis of this nature in magnitude we tend to lose out on the critical services that tend to benefit women we have

Austerity measures and usually what goes out of the window first are those services that cushion women from poverty food parcels support for shelter as well as the help that is needed for women’s health and for women’s sexual and reproductive rights we are worried for instance right now with the overextended health systems women who need to deliver babies are not

Able to access hospital because you know babies will be born even in the midst of a crisis we now do not have midwives in our community you know the way maybe in the last generation that was a service that was common women we have done relatively well in maternal health that more and more women have been accessing a maternal health in formal settings and now all of

A sudden that is gone and women have to see how they cope with it and that puts their lives at risk i will not be surprised if after this who will find that our numbers for my for the witch flecked what has happened to maternal health illnesses or deaths have actually been tainted so at breakfast i felt a and finally i just want to look at the long-term effect of

The coronavirus crisis on the fight for gender equality so this comes at a time when there was good momentum it seems within the me to movement in recent years and a lot of public debate about gender equality of course un woman’s own generation equality forum this year had to be cancelled how do you regain that momentum after this crisis is over and life hopefully

Returns to normal we are trying to link our response to to covet 19 – the ongoing work that we need to do we when we are responding for instance to gender-based violence that come out of covered we are saying that toughness must make this an agent response an essential service and must sustain that and not take it away once a we know more having covered we think

That a gender-based violence has to be declared a pandemic because it’s a share of pandemic which was there before the outbreak of the span damage and will be there after so we need to sustain it but also when it texts when we are talking about the representation of women in decision-making in the economic sphere with different interventions about the economy are

Being decided we feel that this is the time now to continue that fight and fight for women’s participation in every level from zeliha thank you very much for your time thank you thank you so much

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Head of UN Women tells the FT about the impact of coronavirus on women | FT By Financial Times

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