NWEC Global Seminar
- Event Report
FY2020 NWEC Global Seminar: Covid-19 and Gender
Date：December 4th, 2020
The National Women’s Education Center of Japan held the 2020 NWEC Global Seminar around the theme “Covid-19 and Gender: Effects of the Public Health Crisis on Gender Equality” from November 27 through December 4, 2020. In light of the global spread of Covid-19, this year’s seminar was divided in three parts and provided via video on demand (VOD) and live streaming.
●Part 1: Keynote Addresses（VOD streaming）
In Part I, measures taken in Taiwan and Iceland, countries that were successful in swiftly containing the new coronavirus, were introduced.
In an address titled “Crisis Management of COVID-19 from a Gender Perspective: Is Women Leadership the Key to Success?” Dr. Lilian Wang (Professor, Department of Social Work, National Taiwan University) analyzed factors behind the success of the “Taiwan Model” which, based on experience gained dealing with the SARS outbreak in 2003, involved implementation of strict national border control and establishment of a Central Epidemic Command Center. She also emphasized the widespread sharing of the values of equality and generosity in society (caring citizenship) demonstrated by Taiwan’s female leader. Dr. Wang concluded her address by identifying the need to collect and analyze data that includes gender statistics in order to formulate and implement gender-sensitive policies to prevent contagion.
In the second keynote, “Gender Equality and Women in the Time of Plague,” Ms. Brynhildur Heiðar-og Ómarsdóttir (Secretary General, Icelandic Women’s Rights Association) reported on Iceland’s experience. Ms. Ómarsdóttir proposed that Iceland was able to formulate measures precisely and swiftly in a public health crisis such as this pandemic because advances in women’s participation in the fields of economics and politics have ensured there is little gender disparity. Moreover, in order to build a society resilient to crisis, she advocated the need to further substantiate social infrastructure that considers gender, such as equal provision of paid parental leave to both men and women and establishment of a “universal daycare” system for children over the age of two.
●Part 2: Country Reports（VOD streaming）
In Part 2, former participants from the NWEC Leader Seminar, an international training program conducted by NWEC for women leaders in Asia discussed gender issues that had come to light in Indonesia and Vietnam as they tackled Covid-19 and recommended necessary policies.
In Indonesia, gender roles within the family became more pronounced and the workload of unpaid household duties shouldered by women tended to increase with the spread of Covid-19. When schools shut down, mothers in households unable to furbish the expensive IT equipment and network environments needed to support children taking lessons remotely from home saw their workloads increase. Moreover, the fact that despite escalating violence against women and children, efforts to reduce contagion have resulted in diminished services for victims of violence was identified as a problem. It was also mentioned that small-scale women entrepreneurs working in the informal sector have limited access to public support due to the difficulty they experience completing necessary administrative procedures. Measures to address the needs of people facing complex difficulties such as households comprising elderly, single or disabled women are necessary.
In Vietnam, women make up a large percentage of workers in sectors such as manufacturing, retail, scrap collecting, housekeeping, and beauty salons that were heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Women are playing a growing role as caregivers in both public and private arenas. Women account for more than 60 percent of health workers, and as in Indonesia, many women feel their domestic workload has increased. When schools closed between February and mid-May 2020, it was mostly mothers who shouldered the burden of helping children study at home. The report also mentioned an initiative known as “No one will be left behind” which collects donations and sets up “rice ATMs” that provide rice free of charge (for the unemployed) in Vietnam.
●Part 3: Panel Discussion（Live streaming）
The panel discussion comprised three reports around the theme “Covid-19 and Gender” that were presented by Japanese intellectuals and a discussion.
The coordinator, Ms. Atsuko Miwa (Director, Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center ) initiated the discussion by pointing out that, based on the reports on Taiwan, Iceland, Indonesia and Vietnam presented in Parts 1 and 2, Covid-19 had revealed various issues that had remained hidden, notwithstanding their existence hereto, and other neglected gender issues, and that inequalities, disparities and injustices maldistributed in society had grown.
Ms. Chieko Akaishi (Head Director of the NPO Single Mothers Forum) started her report entitled “Effects of Covid-19 on single-mother households” by introducing a questionnaire her organization conducted in April 2020. This had revealed that many single mothers economize on the cost of utilities and meals to compensate for reductions in income by drinking water from water fountains in parks and reducing the frequency of meals and baths. A study entitled “Effects of Covid-19 on single mothers’ employment and lifestyle” conducted in July revealed that 70 percent of single mothers had responded their incomes had been impacted by changes in employment and work conditions, and reductions in the number days and hours they worked. It also showed that an increasing number of employers were telling staff to wait at home, restricting the number of days they worked, laying them off temporarily, or dismissing them. Given current advances in digitalization and the financial difficulties facing single-mother households, Ms. Akaishi advocated the need for providing PCs and support for single mothers’ acquisition of IT skills as a means of helping them find employment.
This was followed by a report entitled “Women’s Labor in the Pandemic: From ‘Husband = Safety Net’ to Public Safety Net” by Ms. Mieko Takenobu (Journalist and Professor Emerita of Wako University) in which she insisted the spread of Covid-19, which has hammered the face-to-face service sector and non-regular workers, is causing female non-regular workers to be left behind. Women account for 70 percent of non-regular workers in Japan. Non-regular workers who get paid by the hour at workplaces where work and shifts were reduced as a result of the public being asked to refrain from going out were told they were not eligible for an allowance for the leave (although they were actually eligible) by employers who shy away from cumbersome procedures. Moreover, work unions are being inundated with consultations claiming employers required non-regular workers to go to work while encouraging regular workers to work remotely. Ms. Takenobu pointed to the lack of public safety nets as a factor behind this. She also alluded to the traditional idea of “Husband = Safety Net” which is based on gender biases such as “Part-timers merely supplement family budgets” and “Loss of income doesn’t adversely affect married women,” and the limits of the traditional work model whereby women are responsible for housework, child raising and caregiving and a “carefree person (man = husband)” doesn’t have to do any unpaid household chores within the home. Ms. Takenobu concluded her report by stressing the need to improve social welfare for non-regular female workers; provide gender education for case workers and labor standard supervisors; and review compensation for non-regular government officers.
The final speaker was Mr. Satoru Yuyama (Senior Program Officer, Civil Society Partnership Group: Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP)). JOICFP is an international NGO that works to protect women’s lives and well-being. With regard to Covid-19’s impact on women, Mr. Yuyama pointed out that although women account for the majority of caregivers and healthcare workers who face a high risk of catching Covid-19, and that funds are being funneled into coronavirus countermeasures, insufficient funds were available for sexual reproductive health services pertinent to women’s well-being such as adequate pre- and postnatal care for women, contraception and safe pregnancy termination procedures. He also expressed his concerns about increases in consultations regarding postnatal depression and teenage pregnancy observed as the pandemic continues to spread.
With regard to support for Covid-19 countermeasures in developing countries, JOICFP has been providing personal protective equipment (masks, hand sanitizers, etc.) for healthcare practitioners and community health workers in Zambia, and developing cellphone-based advocacy activities to prevent infection in Ghana. Moreover, to enable women in Japan to become pregnant, give birth and raise children with peace of mind, it has been providing online mothering classes and operating a “Mother First” postnatal carehouse as one element of pre- and postnatal care. Mr. Yuyama also identified the need to deepen ties with midwives, public health workers and other specialists who support women in order to mitigate the impact Covid-19 is having on women.
The experts’ reports were followed by an open discussion where a lively debate ensued with participants sharing numerous questions and opinions, including “Once again I was stunned by the severity of the situation facing single mothers and female non-regular workers in Japan” and “Learning about the situation overseas gave me new insight into how Covid-19 is affecting gender.”
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