In a recent position paper by the Consultative Council for Women’s Rights, released in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, the importance of allocating specific funding to the needs of women featured high on the agenda.
To back up this recommendation, the paper highlights a number of circumstances surrounding the pandemic that appear to have left many women worse off than men and exacerbated gender inequalities.
While praising the government for its support of the economy, the paper points out, for instance, that women whose business floundered during COVID-19 may be having a harder time staying on their feet, one reason being that they generally find it more difficult to raise funding.
The council fears that the economic slowdown may also lead to an increase in women’s inactivity, i.e. their withdrawal from the labour market. High unemployment rates are being registered in sectors where a lot of women find jobs, such as clerical, sales and services.
The position paper also delves into the burden of COVID-19 on women’s mental well-being. Women have been under multiple pressures.
Those lucky enough to retain their job and given the facility to work remotely may have also had to help children with schoolwork and online classes, shop for themselves and elderly relatives, cook and do the housework, all the while worrying about the possibility of reduced pay, potential redundancy as well as health risks. Others may have had to stop working to cope with the added responsibilities.
Other pressures conducive to high anxiety levels included strong reliance on public transport among women workers – with the health concerns which that entailed – increased pressure on marital harmony, even the higher risk of falling victim to domestic violence.
The council sees the silver lining: lower incidence of harassment and crime in public places, less traffic and cleaner air, lower accident rates, the proof that teleworking and teleconferencing do work.
COVID-19 also brought out women’s vital role in the pandemic: their “invisible, unpaid labour at home taking care of children, the sick and the elderly”. Without these women, and the female frontliners in the fight against the virus, “the whole country would have spun into chaos,” the council asserts.
Whether or not the coronavirus returns in a way that poses a new significant health threat to this country, there is a strong case to be made for crafting future policies and budgets through a gender perspective. This would take into consideration women’s often unpaid and unrecognised contribution to familial and societal stability, especially through a crisis, and the high cost they often bear in terms of finances, relationships and general well-being.
The council argues for an approach to policy and budgeting that targets not so much equality of access as equity in terms of actual outcomes. So, as council chairperson Josann Cutajar explained, if fewer girls are taking up STEM subjects, resources should be allocated to identify and remove the obstacles that stand in their way.
Policy makers need to pay more attention to women prone to gender-specific vulnerabilities.
Women need to be provided with the kind of policies, services and funding that could ease their burden of care, give them more opportunities for solid employment, support them in their career aspirations, ensure they are not overlooked in their financing needs when it comes to business, and guarantee flexible work arrangements where possible.
These are just a few of the ways women can be rewarded for being the rocks on which society leans.
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