Gender gap, pandemic and war have widened it

For every dollar men earn, women earn half as much

Over 380 million women and girls, or 8% of the global female population, will live in poverty by 2030 if immediate action is not taken to reduce the gender gap.

The alarm was raised by the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality, which in the new report “Gender Snapshot 2022” photographs the male-female disparity in the 17 goals set in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

Female poverty in the world

The first aspect, already highlighted at the beginning, concerns poverty, which affects women more than men. A first emblematic fact is that over 380 million girls and women live with less than $1.90 a day. The situation, explains the United Nations Agency for Gender Equality, is particularly serious in sub-Saharan Africa, where 62.8% of women are in extreme poverty, followed by Central and Southern Asia where they are in poverty extreme one woman in five (21.4%).

The gender gap has been widened by the Covid-19 pandemic in every aspect of individual and social life, causing an increase in poverty especially among women.

The gender percentage living on less than $1.90 a day had fallen from 11.2% in 2013 to 8.6% in 2018. Covid disrupted this progress, bringing the poverty rate close to 9% in 2022. As of the end of 2022, approximately 383 million women and girls lived in extreme poverty, compared to 368 million men and boys.

The numbers become even more serious only by slightly raising the dollar/day bar: as the Agency explains, in 2022, 938 million women and girls lived on less than 3.20 dollars a day and 1.7 billion women lived on less than $5.50 a day.

For many of them poverty it prevents access to essential services such as drinking water and cooking fuel. Such deprivations fuel other gender inequalities, as women spend more time on unpaid care work and household chores, depriving themselves of their lives and interests. The next generation of women, the report explains, will likely continue to dedicate between two and three hours more per day for unpaid care and housework
compared to men. The comparison worsens if we do not stop at the mere numerical aspect of the hours, because the more delicate activities of caring for younger children – such as bathing, feeding and the fateful changing of diapers – are carried out much more often by women: the 49% of women living with a partner report taking primary responsibility for these essential activities, compared to 6% of men (Eige data).

Closely related to poverty are hunger and food insecurity, exacerbated by Covid and the conflict in Ukraine. The report denounces that almost one in four women is at risk of suffering from moderate or severe food insecurity and the gender gap has been increasing in recent years. Data in hand, during the pandemic, moderate or severe food insecurity among adult women increased from 27.5% in 2019 to 31.9% in 2021. Among men, however, it increased from 25.7% to 27 ,6%, widening the gender gap from 1.8 to 4.3 percentage points. As is well known, nutrition problems cause various diseases, primarily anemia, so much so that in 2019 almost one in three women of reproductive age (15-49 years) was anaemic, for a total of 571 million women affected.

Poverty, of course, but not only. 60% of the world’s undernourished people live in conflict-affected areas, and up to 36 countries depend on the Russian Federation and Ukraine for more than half of their grain imports, including conflict-affected territories such as Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. The full impact of the ongoing war is unknown, the agency explains in its report, but rising food prices are likely to exacerbate hunger, especially among women, children and other vulnerable populations.

Health risks also include legal restrictions that continue to exacerbate the challenges women face in accessing safe sexual and reproductive health care. Today, more than 1.2 billion women and girls of reproductive age (15-49 years) live in countries and areas with restrictions in access to safe abortion.

Women and education

Covid and conflicts also widen the gender gap in terms of education, as demonstrated by the fact that more than half of the almost 130 million girls not enrolled in formal education in the world (54%) reside in countries affected by crises. The situation is particularly delicate in Afghanistan, where girls are no longer allowed to attend secondary school.

Added to this, especially in the poorest countries, is the increase in teenage pregnancies during the pandemic that threatens girls’ education. A study conducted in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania found that 56% of adolescent girls from hard-to-reach populations who dropped out of school at the start of the pandemic were or had recently been pregnant.

Difficulties in education are also linked to discrimination and gender-based violence: among adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa, lack of access to studies leads to a greater risk of sexual violence, exploitation, HIV infection and less education. Girls’ education has made notable progress in this region, but even without considering the consequences of Covid, predictions indicate that it will take at least another 54 years to achieve full universal primary education.

All assessments that push the United Nations to ask states for more decisive interventions, especially looking at what has happened in recent years: the number of women and girls living in conflict contexts has increased significantly and reached 614 million in 2022, 50% more than in 2017.

The gender gap at work

Another area in which women are discriminated against across the board is work. As the Gender Snapshot reports, in 2022 for every dollar men earned, women earned just 51 cents. It’s still: only 61.4% of women of working age are actually engaged in work, compared to 90% of men. The working conditions of women deteriorated further with the pandemic: in 2019 they represented 39.4% of total employment, after Covid the rate dropped drastically to 21%.

The cultural factor could help to change the situation, given that among the causes that make women poorer than men, there is lack of payment for domestic work often relegated to the female member of the family. On this point, the Meloni government is thinking of giving support to new mothers by introducing the figure of maternal assistant in Italy from 2024.

The gender gap also affects management positions, held by women in only 28.3% of cases in 2020. Only 47 of the 151 countries and areas with data exceeded 40% representation. At current rates, the Agency explains, gender equality will not be achieved before at least 140 years. A huge delay, if compared to the United Nations goal of eliminating gender discrimination by 2030.

Clearly, the worst employment status translates into little or no pension, so much so that in 28 of the 116 countries with statistics on this less than half of older women have a pension.

A disparity, the working one, which is also a decision-making one as demonstrated by the fact that, on a global level, only 26.4% of parliamentary seats are held by women. In 23 countries, representation is even less than 10%. At the local level, women occupy approximately 1/3 of the seats in local decision-making bodies (34.3%). In both cases, efforts will need to be multiplied to achieve the gender equality objective set for 2030 by the United Nations Agenda.

Data in hand, it is a utopian objective, which involves investments by states and supranational bodies. “Gender equality – explained Maria Francesca Spatolisano, who directs policy coordination at the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs – is not just an objective of the 2030 Agenda. It is the very foundation of a just society and the basic goal of everyone else. Only by breaking down the barriers that have hindered the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of society can we unleash the potential that has so far remained untapped and push us towards progress and prosperity for all.”