29 May 2020

World leaders warn pandemic could roll back progress for women

11:57 am on 29 May 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to undo recent gains for gender equality, world leaders say.

No caption

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark has joined world leaders warning that the needs of women and girls could be eroded due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said a "wake-up call" was needed to protect women's and children's rights amid the pandemic.

They who held a virtual summit with United Nations officials and leaders from Canada, Costa Rica and Senegal.

"We've all come together because none of us are prepared to stand by and see this pandemic erode the significant progress that has been made on the health and rights of women and children and adolescents," said Clark, who served as prime minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008.

"We are hearing stories from the front lines of the immunisations not being able to be done, the pregnancy services not there, the sexual health and reproductive health services generally not there.

"It doesn't have to be like this, but there's not currently enough global solidarity."

The United Nations estimates the pandemic could cause 7 million unwanted pregnancies over the next six months as women lose access to contraception and reproductive health care.

Child deaths are expected to spike by up to 6000 per day due to reductions in routine services, such as postnatal check-ups and vaccines. This could mark an increase in the under-five death rate for the first time in decades, according to the UN Children's Agency (UNICEF).

As vulnerable members of society, particularly in poorer countries, women are likely to take a big economic hit and have a hard time recovering, said Clark.

Several leaders said community-level interventions are the best solution, such as a campaign in Senegal to distribute food and information about health resources to women working in markets.

"If it is small, it is still important," said Awa Marie Coll-Seck, minister of state to the president of Senegal.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: vimeo

President Kaljulaid of Estonia urged countries to look for innovative solutions.

"Traditional tools are not sufficient. Therefore let us try to do things differently, reach out more at grassroots level," said Kaljulaid.

"If something positive can stem from this pandemic at all, it is the wider acceptance of the importance of global communal goods ... and supporting the weakest in society - the children, adolescents and women," she said.

- Thomson Reuters Foundation

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs