Building a fairer, healthier world starts with investing in women and girls

UN Women

On World Health Day, 7 April, UN Women spotlights women on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 and growing inequality

A year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the global count of infection has exceeded 131 million. Across the globe, life as we knew has been on pause, and transformed. However, the inequalities we lived with before the pandemic have carried over to the new normal. Left unchecked, they will increase.

A recently released UN Women report shows that by 2021, 435 million women and girls will be pushed into extreme poverty, living on USD 1.90 or less. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the risk of poverty is higher for women than men, since they get lower wages and do more informal work that provides little to no protection against economic shocks. Women are estimated to lose more jobs than men, and those who are poor and marginalized also face a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities.

Throughout the pandemic, violence against women has risen – in some countries, calls to helplines went up five-fold, while in others, women were unable to seek help as they were trapped at home with their abusers. Projections show that for every three months of lockdown, an additional 15 million women are at risk of gender-based violence.

As with any other crisis, women are at the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, as health workers, care-givers, leaders and innovators. Globally, 70 per cent of health workers and first responders are women, yet they are not paid or valued at par with their male counterparts. Right now, men outnumber women three to one across COVID-19 government task forces around the world.

This is the backdrop against which the world is trying to recover from COVID-19, and “build back better”. On World Health Day (7 April), take a look at some of the women we work with on the front lines of COVID-19 and their persistent battle to build a fairer, healthier and more equal world.

Breaking down language barriers

Juana Facundo is a translator of Otomi indigenous language. Photo: UN Women/ Coordination of Extension and Social Action UDG

Juana Facundo is a translator of Otomi indigenous language. Photo: UN Women/ Coordination of Extension and Social Action UDG

“Being indigenous, we already suffer from discrimination, and with the pandemic, women were forced to stay at home and endure domestic abuse,” says Juana Facundo.

Facundo is one of the five translators working with UN Women’s Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces for Women and Girls programme in Mexico and the University of Guadalajara to break down language barriers in the dissemination of COVID-19 health information and to prevent violence against indigenous women and girls in Jalisco state’s capital city of Guadalajara.

The programme developed information about COVID-19 prevention and gender-based violence in the five indigenous languages of Hñähñu, Mixteco, Purépecha, Mazahua, and Mahua, and shared them over the radio. Along with community-based loud speaker interventions in neighbourhoods most affected by the pandemic, the information campaign reached 57,000 indigenous people in the state of Jalisco.

“There are more than 38 indigenous languages nationwide and the [public information] campaign raised awareness of other cultures and languages,” says Facundo. “I like that our voices are being heard.”

Read the full story here.

Women leaders fighting inequality

Laxmi Badi, center in pink shawl, participating in a group work during Feminist Leadership training. Photo: Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization/Shanker Biswokarma

Laxmi Badi, center in pink shawl, participating in a group work during Feminist Leadership training. Photo: Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organization/Shanker Biswokarma

Laxmi Badi, 40, is a member of the Ward Committee and Judicial Committee of Dipayal Silgadhi Municipality in far western Nepal, since 2017. When COVID-19 hit, Badi led her community fiercely to prevent misinformation and discrimination.

Throughout her life, her teachers, friends and neighbours had actively avoided being in her proximity, because she was from the Dalit community, perceived as “low caste” and “untouchable”. In 2020, she took in a UN Women programme funded by the Government of Finland, which provided leadership and governance training.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Badi’s municipality saw an influx of Nepali migrant workers returning from India. As per the protocol, the returnee migrants were required to quarantine for 14 days at a local facility. However, the onset of COVID-19 exacerbated pre-existing discrimination against the Dalit community. The people from ‘upper castes’ in the quarantine centre refused to let Dalit returnee migrant workers enter the premises and locked the gates saying they might spread COVID-19.

When Badi found out, she went with a hammer and smashed the lock. She stopped the spread of misinformation and explained to everyone that any one of them, including people from ‘upper castes’, could test positive for COVID-19. She advised all to maintain physical distance and warned if anyone discriminated against the Dalits, she would have to report them to the police. She also provided support to the survivors of gender-based violence in the quarantine centre. Badi’s continuous efforts to address inequality have earned her respect in her municipality.

Read her full story here.

Supporting women entrepreneurs

Caroline Fattal. Photo courtesy of Caroline Fattal

Caroline Fattal is a Lebanese businesswoman. Photo courtesy of Caroline Fattal

“I believe that economic resilience and revival of businesses is critical right now and supporting women to remain in the workforce is crucial,” says Caroline Fattal, a 49-year-old Lebanese businesswoman with extensive experience in multinational companies and within her family business.

A firm believer of women’s empowerment, Fattal launched the non-profit organization, Stand for Women, to improve women’s inclusion in the workforce.

When, on 4 August 2020, a massive explosion at the Beirut Port killed more than 200 people and demolished thousands of buildings, including small businesses, Stand for Women was the first NGO to start saving and rebuilding women-owned small and medium enterprises.

“When the COVID-19 lockdown was renewed in January, they faced additional stress,” explains Fattal. “[It compromised] their cash flow and their ability to pay rent and utilities. One of our beneficiaries owns a photocopy shop, making only 60,000 LBP (USD 7.50) per day; how can she, under lockdown, bring money home?”

In partnership with another NGO, Live Love Beirut, funded by UN Women, Stand for Women provided women-owned businesses with machines, computers and supplies, tailored to the needs of each business, to help them reopen.

Since August 2020, Stand for Women has helped 109 women-owned businesses reopen.

Public Release. More on this here.