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COVID-19 widens gender gap

Government forum highlights disproportionate impact of pandemic on women, girls

Gender Minister Lee Jung-ok speaks at the forum on Friday. (Ministry of Gender Equality)
Gender Minister Lee Jung-ok speaks at the forum on Friday. (Ministry of Gender Equality)

The forum was organized to mark the 25th anniversary of the Platform for Action, which took place in Beijing in 1995, when government delegations from 189 countries agreed to work together to achieve the “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.”

United Nations estimates show that women have been disproportionately affected by the health emergency, losing jobs at a faster rate than men and having their education interrupted to a greater extent.

Bae Eun-kyung, a sociology professor at Seoul National University, said the crisis’s toll weighs heavier on women because their work tends to be underpaid and undervalued.

“Women are overrepresented in sectors hit hardest by COVID-19 such as service and care. The relative lack of formal employment for women also makes them more likely to lose their jobs than their male counterparts,” she said.

The Center for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology’s President Ahn Hye-yeon said the pandemic was accelerating the transition to the digital economy, and that this makes giving women equal opportunities to work and thrive in technical and scientific fields more vital.

“When it comes to STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- women are still a minority,” she said. “Bridging the gender gap starts by ending unequal pay for women in STEM jobs and inspiring more girls to pursue STEM careers.”

Activists who spoke at the forum also called for action to address the rise in sexual and gender-based violence amid the pandemic.

Domestic violence rates have surged globally, as many women and girls are confined with their abusers during lockdowns. According to a UN Women report, there has been an increase in calls to helplines and complaints to police reporting violent acts against women in the majority of countries surveyed after the pandemic.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned in an August statement that, “Without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains” on gender equality and women’s rights.

“Protecting the rights of women and girls during the COVID-19 crisis is a top priority for the UN,” he said.

“The pandemic is not only exposing, but also exacerbating the inequalities and other hurdles faced by women,” said Gender Minister Lee Jung-ok in her opening remarks at the forum.

“The forum hopes to serve as a platform for sharing and exploring ideas for attaining the goals of sustainable gender equality during as well as after COVID-19.”

By Kim Arin (