Melinda Gates recommends effective COVID-19 response for women and girls
For more inclusive COVID-19 response, Gates said maternal and reproductive healthcare should be made an essential service.
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has called on world leaders and policymakers to ensure that women and girls are not left behind in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The strong advocacy and recommendations by the philanthropist and businesswoman were written in an article published by Foreign Affairs Magazine on Wednesday, titled "The Pandemic's Toll on Women and Girls."
In a statement made available to Financial Nigeria today on behalf of the Gates Foundation, the article explores how the pandemic has exploited pre-existing inequalities and drastically impacted women's lives and livelihoods. Gates, who is a global advocate for women and girls, provided a set of policy recommendations that governments should consider in improving health systems for women and girls, designing more inclusive economic policies and providing more leadership opportunities for women.
She said in Africa, for instance, women and girls are disproportionately affected by reduced access to healthcare services and are at greater risk of gender-based violence.
Gates also described how previous disease outbreaks, including AIDS and Ebola, exploited inequality, particularly around gender, systemic racism, and poverty. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, for instance, she said the biggest cause of maternal mortality was not the Ebola virus itself but the fact that a lot of women were giving birth without medical assistance. She noted that cutting back on funding healthcare in low- and middle-income countries could claim the lives of up to 113,000 women.
"That is what epidemics do: they not only overwhelm immune systems; they also overwhelm health systems," Gates wrote in the article. "And because the parts of those systems devoted to caring for women are often the most fragile and underfunded, they collapse first and fastest."
She, therefore, called on health ministers to find ways to provide safe maternal care even in pandemic conditions. To ensure a more inclusive COVID-19 response, Gates wrote that maternal and reproductive healthcare should be made an essential service, protecting the contraceptive supply chain, and using the pandemic as an opportunity to integrate women's healthcare.
According to the statement by the Gates Foundation, women account for around 40 per cent of COVID-19 cases. And since women make up the majority of workers in the informal sector, this also leaves them at greater risk of losing their income.
The article also highlights the importance of designing emergency economic relief programmes that reach women who need them the most. She warned that the pandemic should not stall progress toward gender equality. Otherwise, "the cost will be in the trillions: even a four-year wait in taking new action to improve parity – for example, by introducing interventions to advance women’s digital and financial inclusion – would erase $5 trillion in opportunity from global GDP in 2030," Gates wrote.
She called on world leaders – disproportionately men – to ensure women's voices are included at all levels of decision-making in the response to this crisis. She concludes by writing, "This is how we can emerge from the pandemic in all of its dimensions: by recognizing that women are not just victims of a broken world; they can be architects of a better one."
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