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UN secretary-general sees COVID-19 'economic reset' as opportunity to end patriarchal oppression of women

'Time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies'

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres (Photo by EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month that COVID-19 provides the opportunity for an "economic reset" that will allow the world to fundamentally restructure societies to be less oppressive of women, during a speech at a town hall with Young Women from Civil Society Organizations.

Guterres said COVID-19 has exposed the ways in which a male-dominated society has been damaging to all people.

"The pandemic is only demonstrating what we all know: that millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture which damages everyone – women, men, girls and boys," Guterres said.

Guterres cites the fact that 70% to 90% of health care workers are women, but relatively few of them are in decision-making roles, as well as pointing to the number of women who work in informal or unpaid caretaker roles, and urges countries to create policies that put money in the hands of women.

With much of the world in disarray due to the impact of COVID-19, Guterres said, the time is right to enact bold and widespread societal changes.

"This is the time to rebuild more equal, inclusive, and resilient societies," Guterres said. "Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We need to take the opportunity of an economic reset to ensure the rights to life, dignity, and security for everyone."

In the same speech that he called for the world to "ensure the rights to life ... for everyone," Guterres emphasized the need to make sure women have access to reproductive health care, which includes abortion, during the pandemic.

"Governments must take a holistic view of the health impact of this pandemic," Guterres said. "All women have a right to quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health services. Governments have a responsibility to make sure women and girls can access these services, even during a crisis."

Guterres suggested one major path to this societal change is to "expand civic space so that civil society organizations can play their full part."

In the speech, Guterres also highlighted some realities that point to the damage being done by lockdowns, such as higher levels of domestic abuse as women are trapped at home with abusers, and school dropout rates increasing among teenage girls.

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