All around the world, the economic burden of the pandemic is borne disproportionately by women, slamming the brakes on recent momentum in the movement to close the gender gap and potentially pushing 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line.
If we want the global economy to recover from today’s global health and economic crises, a gender perspective offers a new and powerful tool for governments to respond. With a record number of women serving as top economic officials around the world, there is hope that spending priorities will shift to better address caregiving and support women in – or reentering – the workforce.
The Biden administration’s recent establishment of a Gender Policy Council and its plans to invest in the infrastructure of the care economy through the American Rescue Plan are also positive steps.
As Argentina’s first national director of economy, equality and gender, I’ve seen firsthand how well calibrated policies can catalyze the holistic change that is needed to prioritize and achieve true gender equality. Within weeks of President Alberto Fernández’s inauguration in December 2019, his campaign promise to bring women’s rights to the forefront became government policy. He established Argentina’s first Ministry of Women, Gender, and Diversity to coordinate and systematize gender considerations across government agencies. My position – the first of its kind in Argentina – focuses on economic analysis to address gender disparities and expand economic opportunity for women.
While there is much more work to be done, there are three key areas that governments should keep in mind when designing a gender-responsive pandemic economic recovery.
First, addressing the gender disparities in the care economy is central to alleviating the heavy burden of unpaid caregiving and household work that women have disproportionately shouldered, especially during the pandemic. According to Oxfam International, 42 percent of women cannot get a job because they are responsible for caregiving, compared to just 6 percent of men. A report my office published in September found that Unpaid Care and Domestic Work amounts to 15.9 percent of Argentina’s gross domestic product and represents the largest – yet most invisible – sector in the entire economy. We estimate that 9 out of 10 women perform these tasks for an average of 6.4 hours a day – that’s triple the time spent by men on such work.
The Argentine government is actively working to alleviate this issue by increasing the number of childcare centers across the country. Additionally, we plan to lengthen our state-mandated paternity leave. Currently, it is two days, while mothers must take 90 days – a grossly unequal standard.
Second, increasing women’s labor participation in strategic sectors like technology, energy and public infrastructure is critical to an inclusive economic growth. Compared to men, women have higher levels of unemployment, earn less and are vastly underrepresented in sectors that boost the economy. Ensuring women’s equal access to a wide-range of sectors not only helps close the gender wealth gap, but it also allows society to benefit from women’s talents and leadership skills. Government intervention will be required in order to address the structural inequality that these trends, left unchecked, will leave in their wake.
Third, budgets are often a reflection of a government’s values and gender equality must be part of the equation. For the first time in Argentina’s history, the government’s budget is gender-sensitive by design and includes the equivalent of more than $68 million U.S. dollars allocated toward gender and diversity policies. This money not only represents more than 15 percent of the total budget, but it is also distributed across 14 ministries, underscoring the government’s broad commitment to gender equality across the entire government.
Throughout Women’s History Month in March, many spoke out regarding the importance of gender equality. Words are important, but action is needed. If government budgets are not explicitly gender-responsive by design, they are highly unlikely to be progressive in closing the gender gaps or to adequately address women’s concerns. Empowering women to exercise their rights requires significant resources. It cannot be done on the cheap. We hope that more countries use Argentina’s budget as a model for prioritizing and mainstreaming gender policies as it continues to implement its agenda over the next few months.
Women’s movements, especially in Latin America, are rarely constricted by borders; our struggles are universal. As Argentina seeks novel solutions to longstanding challenges that have held women back, our hope is that advancements in one country reinforce progress in others.
A country of empowered women is key to a stronger economy. There is still a long way to go, but new government recognition of a gender gap – and a shared commitment to close it with actionable policies – will lead to tangible results.
When we uplift women, we uplift economies – in Argentina, and around the world.
Mercedes D’Alessandro is the national director of economy, equality and gender at Argentina’s Ministry of Economy.
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