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Gates’ warning: Huge mistake will ‘prolong the crisis’

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
En esta imagen del 1 de febrero de 2018, el cofundador de Microsoft Bill Gates y su esposa, Melinda, participan en una entrevista con The Associated Press en Kirkland, Washington. (AP Foto/Ted S. Warren)
Bill and Melinda Gates. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Governments that fail to understand that the pandemic affects women differently will “prolong the crisis” and undo years of progress towards gender equality, Melinda Gates has said.

Writing in the annual Bill and Melinda Gates letter, the philanthropist and former Microsoft general manager said that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for economic programs designed for and by women.

“If governments ignore the fact that the pandemic and resulting recession are affecting women differently, it will prolong the crisis and slow economic recovery for everyone,” Gates said.

“For example, because of the economic shutdowns over the last year, hundreds of millions of people in low-income countries have needed help from their government to meet basic needs. But the cruel irony is that the women who most need these economic lifelines tend to be invisible to their governments.”

That means that even if governments are issuing stimulus packages, it’s hard to ensure that that cash will make it to women in need - especially if they don’t have a formal ID, appear on the tax rolls or have a mobile phone.

Similarly, support in the form of tax rebates won’t help people who aren’t earning enough to pay a significant amount in tax, and likewise pushes for businesses to provide pandemic leave won’t help those who are unemployed or self-employed.

This barrier means that without a concerted effort, marginalised women will grow even more disadvantaged.

At the same time, the demand for unpaid labour has surged as billions of people across the globe stayed at home.

“Women already did about three-quarters of that work. Now, in the pandemic, they’ve taken on even more of it,” Gates said.

“This work may be unpaid, but it comes at an enormous cost: Globally, a two-hour increase in women’s unpaid care work is correlated with a 10 percentage point decrease in women’s labor force participation.”

To address this, Gates said it’s time to treat child care as “essential infrastructure”, and as such worthy of funding in the same way as roads or fibre optic cable.

“In the long term, this will help create more productive and inclusive post-pandemic economies,” she said.

Inequality an overwhelming concern

In addition to gender inequality, Gates said she was concerned over a new divide forming between those with access to a COVID-19 vaccine and those who don’t.

“Already, wealthy nations have spent months pre-purchasing doses of vaccine to start immunizing their people the moment those vaccines are approved,” she said.

“But as things stand now, low- and middle-income countries will only be able to cover about one out of five people who live there over the next year. In a world where global health is local, that should concern all of us.”

She said until a vaccine is globally available, the risk will persist and the cycle of inequality will continue.

Threat of war

Bill Gates added that this global approach will need to continue long beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world will never be free of the risk of other global outbreaks.

While it’s unclear when the next pandemic will strike, there is no doubt that COVID-19 will be the last global health emergency.

“To prevent the hardship of this last year from happening again, pandemic preparedness must be taken as seriously as we take the threat of war,” he said.

“Stopping the next pandemic will require spending tens of billions of dollars per year - a big investment, but remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to cost the world $28 trillion.

“The world needs to spend billions to save trillions (and prevent millions of deaths). I think of this as the best and most cost-efficient insurance policy the world could buy.”

The cost is high, but it will need to be shouldered by the world’s richer countries. Countries will also need to have “germ games” in which simulations of deadly and infectious outbreaks are used to practice and improve domestic and international responses.

However, Gates is hopeful that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world the reality of a pandemic.

“The pain of this past year will be seared into people’s thinking for a generation. I am hopeful that we’ll see broad support for efforts that make sure we never have to experience this hardship again.”

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