6 July 2020 | News/Stories

Women’s economic empowerment and leadership are key to COVID-19 crisis recovery—conference

Investing in Women (IW) CEO Julia Newton-Howes joined YCAB Foundation Founder and CEO Veronica Colondam and RBL Bank Head for HR,CSR and Internal Branding Shanta Vallury Gandhi as panellists for Why We Need to Keep Fighting for Women’s Economic Empowerment, a livestreamed online session at the AVPN Virtual Conference in June.

The session explored the initiatives that have been deployed to advance women’s economic empowerment in response to COVID-19. It was moderated by Dayoung Lee, Associate Partner at Dalberg Global Development Pte. Ltd.

Julia spoke of IW’s efforts to advance women’s economic empowerment through promoting workplace gender equality, impact investing and influencing gender norms.

“Fundamentally, the motivation for this work is inclusive economic growth and better business outcomes across the world” Julia said.

She also shared that IW has been undertaking new analysis and developing tools to address the challenges resulting from the pandemic, which have highlighted pre-existing gender inequality.

“The evidence is here. Gender equality brings better business outcomes and stronger economic growth. So, why are so many companies, and so many countries, ignoring this potential competitive advantage? It is time for change,” asked Julia.

Women fare worse than men

Drawing on a study commissioned by Investing in Women to analyse the impact of previous health and economic crises on women’s economic opportunities, Julia noted, “I was surprised at how unequivocal the findings were. In every one of these crises, women have fared worse than men. But it’s important to understand why that’s the case.”

“Women start off in a worse position than men. Women tend to earn less than men. They have less access to productive assets. And this limits their ability to develop their capabilities and to make strategic choices and participate on equal terms with men.”

Julia also talked about two issues women encounter in the workplace: labour market segmentation and how this is affected by gendered perceptions of jobs for women and men; and sexist attitudes of employers. As a result of these problems, women are overrepresented in low-paying and vulnerable occupations, and men are given preference by management when companies downsize.

It’s clear that women’s formal employment is often adversely affected in crises. While government policy can work to address gender inequality in recessions and crises, frequently, it doesn’t.”

The need for gender responsive interventions and support for women’s SMEs

Julia shared why it is important for governments to use a gender lens when responding to a crisis.

“Tightening fiscal policy often harms women because governments have not done the gender analysis to really understand where the impact will predominantly fall. Further, too often, government leadership is predominantly male and there isn’t a voice of women in there,” said Julia. “I think the key to this is women’s leadership as part of any planning for how we respond to a recession, and the gender analysis.”

Julia also talked about IW’s support women-owned SMEs through impact investing, and how the program is assisting these SMEs in recovering losses in the wake of COVID-19 through the RISE Fund.

Investing in Women has launched the RISE Fund – Responsive Interventions Supporting (Women) Entrepreneurs – to assist in economic recovery in the South East Asian region.

“In the absence of immediate support elsewhere, the emergency relief facility serves to mitigate the short-term liquidity constraints that enterprises are facing within our portfolio. We’ve worked with partners to evaluate which companies have a strong chance of surviving,” said Julia.

“We’re providing Emergency support to meet non-discretionary expenses—payroll rent, and undeferrable financing obligations —determined on a case by case basis and based on analysis of the current situation. We’ve also developed a resilience facility which will be launched in July. We know that new business opportunities will emerge from this crisis that will contribute to post-COVID economic recovery.”

Building back better

Julia highlighted the importance of planning for the medium and long-term in addressing the impacts of crisis, using what has been learned from previous health and economic crises.

“One simple takeaway I hope you’ll remember is that previous health and economic crises have made pre-existing inequalities worse and they have set back gender inequality,” said Julia.

“But it doesn’t have to be like this. We know why that’s occurred and so, we can make this crisis different. Let’s do that.”


For more information on the session and the speakers, visit the AVPN website.

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