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Building back better – for women and with women

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2021 - 12:00am

In the past year, we have seen how the Philippines and the rest of the world experienced the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this it has been heartening to see that the tradition of mateship and bayanihan between Australia and the Philippines has stayed strong. As a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, I am proud that the Australian government is supporting the economic security, health and safety of Filipino women during the COVID-19 pandemic through our partners in the Philippines. We equally recognize the important role that women play in shaping the roadmap towards recovery from this crisis.

Crises like COVID-19 affect different groups in society in different ways, depending on a person’s gender, age and physical abilities. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said in 2020 that the pandemic is “a threat to gender equality” and it undermines efforts made to empower women and create gender equality in all aspects of our lives. The economic impacts of the pandemic have been compounded for women across the world as they earn less, save less and tend to hold less secure jobs. Unpaid care work has increased, with the needs of children and older relatives having to take priority.

Australia has been focused on embedding gender equality in our support to the Philippines’ response and recovery efforts to the pandemic. We want to support the Philippines to emerge stronger, more resilient and more prosperous than ever. The business case for prioritizing gender equality, especially during the pandemic, is clear. A McKinsey Global Institute Report in July 2020 highlighted that taking actions to advance gender equality can add $13 trillion to the global GDP in 2030. Conversely, the negative impact on the global GDP could be significant – as much as $1 trillion lower in 2030 if no action is taken to address the uneven impact of the pandemic on women and girls. We are therefore making a concerted effort with our partners in the Philippines to address the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on women. We know that Filipino women are resourceful and resilient. They can be agents of change and will be essential contributors to post-pandemic recovery.

As a contribution to these efforts, through our Investing in Women program and in partnership with the Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment, Australia has been working closely with Philippine-based companies to adopt work practices, such as flexible work arrangements so that we can achieve – or in some cases, maintain – a gender-equal workplace. As the pandemic has exacerbated women’s double burden in balancing family and work responsibilities, inclusive and gender-sensitive workplace practices are vital to allow women to continue to work and contribute to the economy. In times of crisis, and when we have recovered, gender diversity will help companies manage their risk and enhance their innovation.

Australia’s support for gender equality in the Philippines on women’s engagement and leadership in small business can help build economic resilience. Many women have lost their jobs as female-dominated industries have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Access to financing for women-owned or women-led small and medium enterprises (WSMEs) in the Philippines has become more challenging. With the Macquarie Group Foundation, Australia is working with local investing partners to provide much needed financing to female-owned small businesses to help them recover from the impacts of the pandemic and to continue their economic activities.

To help with the impacts of the pandemic, Australia’s support to the Philippines has ensured that women and girls continue to have access to health services as the system shifted its focus to COVID-19 response. We provided three mobile triage facilities to three government hospitals through the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in March 2020 to keep pregnant women safe during consultations and thousands of hygiene kits to women and girls, including pregnant and nursing women.

Gender-based violence experienced among women and girls has reportedly increased during the pandemic and has inadvertently weakened women and girls’ access to reporting mechanisms. Australia has been helping the government strengthen reporting mechanisms crucial to protecting women and girls. Through the SaferKidsPH program, female police are engaged on social media to promote measures against abuses and to make reporting more accessible. The Coalitions for Change program, through the Philippine Commission on Women, The Asia Foundation and Philippine National Police, has helped ensure that the National Emergency Hotline (911) is responsive to domestic violence cases.

In the Bangsamoro, we have continued to support women’s participation in decision-making by ensuring their experiences during the COVID-19 crisis and their plans for recovery are reflected in the Bangsamoro Women’s Agenda. Our partnerships with UNFPA and the Community and Family Services International have provided livelihood assistance to internally displaced women and girls in the Bangsamoro to help mitigate the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and promote their participation in the local economy.

As we conclude Women’s Month in the Philippines for 2021, I cannot over-emphasize the central role that women play in leading and contributing to the Philippines’ recovery from COVID-19. Australia has and will remain a steadfast friend and supporter of Filipino women leaders and we recognize their leadership and resilience during tough times. Women are equal partners in the recovery effort and beyond for the future prosperity of the Philippines.

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Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH.

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