‘Covid-19 crisis has a woman’s face’: UN chief spotlights discrimination during pandemic

Antonio Guterres' speech in Geneva focused on racism, the pandemic’s impact on women and human rights, and the ongoing military coup in Myanmar.
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Ayshee Bhaduri
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:52 PM IST
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the media during a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after a meeting in Berlin, Germany, December 17, 2020. Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS(REUTERS)

United Nations (UN) secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Monday said that the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has exacerbated discrimination against women and girls as he opened the 46th session of the body's Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Guterres' speech in Geneva focused on racism, the pandemic’s impact on women and human rights, and the ongoing military coup in Myanmar.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated entrenched discrimination against women and girls. The crisis has a woman’s face," he said, highlighting the pandemic’s impact on women and also criticised countries who are using it as an excuse to crackdown on dissent.

Guterres said that women have suffered higher job losses than men and pushed into poverty by greater numbers. “This is on top of already fragile socio-economic conditions due to lower incomes, the wage gap, and a lifetime of less access to opportunities, resources and protections,” he added.

Another UN body, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had earlier said that the Covid-19 crisis is drastically increasing the poverty rate for women and widening the gap between men and women who live in poverty. The UNDP estimated that by 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty, there will be 118 women, a gap that will increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.

The secretary-general shed light on the plight of frontline workers, most of whom are women from marginalised communities. The International Labour Organization had released a report in April of 2020, estimating that globally over 70% of the healthcare workforce is made up of women, who are now facing the dual burden of working longer shifts and taking care of their families at home.

He also talked about the challenges in Myanmar, where the military seized power from a democratic government.

"We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. It is all coming together in a perfect storm of upheaval," said Guterres.

He also called on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately, saying "Coups have no place in our modern world."

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