As a founding partner of the WealthiHer Network in both the U.K. and Asia, J.P. Morgan is committed to enhancing access to appropriate financial services for women and to discussing issues that impact the economic empowerment of women.  It may not always be comfortable, but it is necessary.

The current narrative on the impact of COVID-19 focuses on the higher male mortality rates, less attention is being given to the disproportionate effect of the virus on women and girls. In a conversation with two eminent humanitarian champions whose organizations are working on the front-line of the COVID-19 response, we explore why and how women have been affected by today’s devastating pandemic.

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, spoke with Sheryl Fofaria, Head of J.P. Morgan’s Philanthropy Centre in Europe & the Middle East. Here we summarize the key takeaways from this important discussion.

1. Gender matters

Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka commented that “every crisis has a gender dimension’, and this one is no different. Women and girls are experiencing a double emergency. Not only do they form the largest part of the formal and informal caring sector but they are also suffering most from an economic and social perspective. For many, their livelihoods have dramatically deteriorated and they’ve lost access to education, while others find themselves locked in with their abuser. And the response needs to go beyond the basics of hygiene and health. Economic empowerment of women is essential if enduring change is to be seen. With the impact of this pandemic set to last for a few years to come we all must take responsibility to ensure that our hard-earned achievements in gender equality are not reversed as a result of the virus.

2. The problem might be gender-specific, but the solution is not 

Addressing the issues that women and girls are facing is an urgent imperative. Targeted programs are needed to provide security, protection, opportunities and livelihoods. But globally the record of doing this is poor. As David Miliband pointed out, less than 0.12%of the total humanitarian budget is directed to work against gender-based violence. Moreover, to effect real change programs have to address the root cause of gender-based violence – which is structural gender inequality – and they have to also engage men in efforts to change harmful social norms and perceptions. Women need to have an equal voice in the decision making around COVID-19, which will lead to better results for all.

3. Out of adversity comes opportunity and innovation

As in so many situations, innovation and opportunities surface when needs-must. David Miliband stated that every program run by the International Rescue Committee had been affected by COVID-19; education services, child protection services and more. The response of humanitarian organizations has had to focus on innovations in prevention and primary care, as well as defeating a new, more subtle villain: misinformation and fake news. And once again, digital solutions come to the fore. Without the digital infrastructure being fixed to enable digital education many girls will continue to be denied access to education. What this pandemic affords us is the opportunity to realize the benefits of collaboration; with corporations working alongside Governments to bear the burden of globalization.

4. Globalization is dead, long live globalization

But is this happening? According to both our speakers: No! Governments’ responses to this crisis have been inwardly focused and, while this is somewhat understandable, it is regrettable and myopic. While the world has profited from global connectivity, global leaders cannot now ignore the risks associated with that connectivity. They need to step up, not back. As Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka put it: “A virus anywhere is a virus everywhere” which is creating the need for a new way of international thinking.  The dearth of global leadership in response to COVID-19 makes the world vulnerable to the weakest link in the chain and, without a focus on the most vulnerable countries and in our communities, both the virus and bad actors will flourish; exacerbating the crisis for women and girls across the globe.

5. Bring in the private sector cavalry

So with Governments pre-occupied domestically and international funding in short supply - where is help going to come from? With the International Rescue Committee currently receiving more donations from private sources than Governments, the answer would seem to be the private sector. Philanthropists and corporates understand that innovation involves risk and that now, more than ever, a collaborative, international approach is essential. But the engagement of one or two parties won’t be enough. With the help of those with influence, the aim must be to achieve true global collaboration between Governments, NGOs, corporates and individual philanthropists to focus beyond their own agenda and towards a common, greater goal.

6. Offering a helping hand

Beyond our personal struggles fighting this pandemic, there is a role for everyone in helping to address the gender disparities that are being exacerbated by this current crisis. Getting involved in the conversation and influencing those in positions to affect real change will help surface the role for collaborative action. 

To watch a replay of the conversation, please click on this link

If you would like to continue this conversation, please contact your J.P. Morgan team who will be delighted to connect you with our Philanthropy Advisors.

International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities.

UN Women

UN Women is the global champion for gender equality. Created in 2010, the United Nations entity was established to accelerate progress on meeting the needs of women and girls, and ending gender-based violence worldwide. UN Women's mission is for every woman and girl to have the right to safety, choice, and a voice. The organisation works to achieve these goals at every level, from grassroots programmes to government policies.  During the COVID-19 crisis, UN Women has had to work quickly and collaborate across nations to ensure its frontline work can provide urgent support to women in need, wherever they are. 

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