As COVID-19 pushes back efforts towards gender equality, conversations around the need to recalibrate such efforts in light of the pandemic—and to push for inclusive growth and sustainable development—continue. These conversations remind us that our work is far from over and that we must strive even harder for a more gender-equal world.
The online conference Leaving No Juana Behind: Women at the Forefront of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), gathered members of the government, civil society, academe and private sector to discuss and learn from the success stories and challenges encountered in pursuing the gender-related SDGs.
Juana is a common name for females in the traditional Filipino context. The online discussion provided a glimpse of the status of women not only in the Philippines, but also in the ASEAN. It examined progress in achieving the gender-related SDGs and how the Philippine government responded to gender-related issues during this pandemic.
The event highlighted women’s participation and leadership in battling the pandemic and in solving the issues exacerbated by the crisis situation. It also explored ways to build back better and ensure a more gender-responsive recovery. Below are some insights from the discussion.
Female labour force participation is key
While the Philippines is ahead of other countries in achieving targets for having women in management positions, increasing labour force participation of women in the country remains a challenge. The female labour force participation rate in the Philippines as of January 2021 is only 46.7% compared to 73.9% for men.
One way to boost economic growth is by having more women in the workforce. Given women’s contributions to the workplace, marketplace, and community, closing the gender gap—particularly in terms of labour participation—could result in US$ 4.2 trillion being added to the Asia-Pacific economy, the Philippines’ included.
Roles of the government and the private sector
Laws benefiting women have increased over the years, beyond the framework Magna Carta for Women, to address discrimination, violence against women and children (VAWC), sexual harassment, rape, and the need for safe spaces. Republic Act No. 11210, which was enacted under the present administration, extends the maternity leave period for female workers from 60 to 105 days, with the option to extend for an additional 30 days without pay, and granting an additional 15 days for solo mothers and other purposes.
The Philippine government has been working with multiple stakeholders on initiatives in support of employees, such as ensuring that flexible work arrangements allow members of the workforce to balance their household and work duties, and pursuing supportive mechanisms to increase female participation in the labour force to maximise gains from the demographic dividend.
The private sector has an equally important role in boosting the economy, especially at such a critical time. Not only should businesses be proactive in rolling out government-prescribed measures aimed at economic recovery; companies should also use their influence and resources to support and strengthen the workforce.
Business leaders are in a position to promote inclusive leadership and and push for a more gender-equal workforce. As countries gear up for economic recovery, companies have the prerogative to accommodate the concerns of employees carrying the compounded burden of balancing household responsibilities and a full-time job. This burden usually falls on women. Employers can support women who want to actively participate in the workforce, but are restrained by pandemic-driven challenges.
Progress beyond COVID-19
Inequality at work is a longstanding problem that requires innovative solutions to deliver lasting results. Recognising the need to improve women’s economic participation, Investing in Women (IW) works through its partners on shifting workplace cultures, practices and policy barriers, as well as on influencing gender norms, in support of women in the world of work.
To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on private sector employees, IW commissioned a series of surveys around the changes in income, productivity, mental and physical health, productivity and employer support to workers in the COVID-19 context. Findings from the surveys, as well as recommendations on how employers can best support their employees. are summarised in these fact sheets.
IW also partners with impact investors to expand market opportunities for women, thereby contributing to economic growth during and beyond the pandemic. Investing in Women launched the Investing in Women RISE Fund–Responsive Interventions Supporting Entrepreneurs–to inject catalytic capital for women-led small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the South East Asian region. The Fund offsets COVID-19 impacts on women-owned and women-led businesses and provides much needed liquidity in a capital-constrained market.
Leaving No Juana Behind was organised by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in coordination with the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW 65).
Speakers at the event included Dr. Sita Sumrit, Head of Poverty Eradication and Gender Division and Assistant Director of the Human Development Directorate at the ASEAN Secretariat based in Jakarta, Indonesia; Wilma A. Guillen, Assistant National Statistician at the Philippine Statistics Authority; Rosemarie G. Edillon, Undersecretary of the Policy and Planning Group at NEDA; and Ma. Rosalyn G. Mesina, Philippine Programme Manager at WeEmpowerAsia. Antoinette Taus, UN Enviroment Programme Goodwill Ambassador and Founder of Communities Organized for Resource Allocation (CORA) Philippines, moderated the discussion.
“In the current COVID-19 pandemic, our hard-won progress may be derailed or [the situation] may further exacerbate inequality across the four dimensions of economic participation [and opportunity], educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. This is most likely to happen if we will not closely analyse the gendered effects of COVID-19 and give our serious attention to the multidimensional and intersecting vulnerabilities of women and girls,” said NEDA Undersecretary Jose Miguel R. dela Rosa.