Harnessing The Potential Of Women And Youth In A Post-Pandemic World
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As we move toward a post-pandemic world, global focus has shifted to what the ‘new normal’ will be like. Organizations are reshaping their working culture, precautionary health measures are set to become a part of our daily lives, and technology continues to provide an essence of normalcy as we adjust. During this time, governments across the world are launching their economic recovery plans; however, it has become increasingly apparent that economic security is unequal– with women and the youth carrying the burden.
Across every sphere, the economic fallout is predicted to impact 1.5 billion workers worldwide, with the potential to wipe out over 195 million jobs, as reported by the International Labor Organization (ILO). This, in turn, is set to negatively affect certain groups more than others, specifically, people in less protected and low-paid jobs such as women and people under 25.
Calls for social distancing and quarantine, although essential, have directly impacted industries reliant on customer-provider interactions, such as restaurants, hotels, retail, or transportation. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a UK-based think tank, women are one-third more likely to work in sectors that have been forced to close than their male counterparts, while workers under 25 are about two and a half times more likely to work in one of those sectors . The overrepresentation of both women and youth in these sectors has and will heighten their vulnerabilities during the crisis.
As these industries begin to close or dramatically reduce their workforce, women and youth are at risk of being left behind. For young people, COVID-19 has impacted their education, economic opportunities, access to resources, health, and overall wellbeing. During the upcoming recovery period, they are at risk of being forced to agree to precarious job conditions that provide them with inadequate social protection. This is further intensified for young women who are from minority or low-earning backgrounds.
Women have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and this has exacerbated existing inequalities. There have been widespread reports of increased incidents of domestic violence, while women also make up a significant proportion of frontline workers at risk of contracting the disease, as well as undertaking childcare responsibilities and informal care work at home. Some organizations, to mitigate their own economic difficulties, have asked female employees to take parental leave or have furloughed them, without asking the same of their male employees.
With the existing pay gap and savings imbalances, this could result in long-lasting economic impacts and financial instability for women in the workforce. The pandemic has shed a light on and deepened pre-existing inequalities; it has exposed the challenges in the social and economic systems that are meant to cater and protect those in need.
However, the shock inflicted by the pandemic does not have to reinforce this unstable economic future. We now have the potential to create and lead lasting social and economic change. Our recovery plans must lead to a more resilient and equal world which will help mitigate future crises. Women and youth will be vital in the recovery of communities across the world. It is crucial that all responses, from governments to NGOs, recognize response plans that place socio-economic inclusion and representation at the heart.
Collectively, we need to reimagine a better future. Across the region and the world, we have seen local charitable organizations support vulnerable people with their immediate challenges. However, we know there is a greater role philanthropy can play in supporting women and young people as economies reset and change direction. At Alwaleed Philanthropies, women and youth empowerment is one of our key pillars. We know the infinite potential of women and youth to help build a better world. In light of COVID-19, our work not only encompasses both emergency response initiatives to tackle the immediate needs, but importantly, it also looks at long-term mitigation measures. This includes working together to remove barriers to access jobs and training and harnessing the potential of women and youth to be agents of change.
For example, through our partnership with the Islamic, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), we had seen that COVID-19 had dramatically impacted the livelihood of women and youth in the informal sector in some of the most affected countries in Africa. These countries were also struggling to meet the demand of hygiene and protective equipment, and we identified the need to strengthen community and local capacity. In doing so, we supported women and youth with the required resources needed to lead within the sector, gain new skills and obtain greater economic empowerment. This is expected to positively impact the lives of 32,000 families across 10 African nations.
We have also worked closely with the Turquoise Mountain Institute to provide women with artistic, technical, and economic opportunities in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. We focus on providing the tools and resources to develop crafts markets and support artisans to access new markets and commercial opportunities. Long-term and impactful initiatives must be considered a key element for global economic recovery plans, so they are truly effective, inclusive and sustainable.
Building strong community networks is vital. Together, we can explore the current gaps in our social provisions across the world and design programs that are able to recognize and put value on informal industries and care jobs, provide more social and economic support, empower entrepreneurship and promote a more equal world. Re-education of women and youth across the world plays a significant role, by developing training programs to reskill, train, and empower, we are able to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.
When we undervalue the importance of women and youth in our economic system, we not only hinder our collective recovery, but also hold systems back from preparedness for future crisis. With the world changing so drastically, we have the unique opportunity to shape the future they deserve with a social and economic response that will support and empower women and youth across the world.