Philanthropist Melinda Gates said she believes leaders must put women at the center of their response to COVID-19 in order to address the child care crisis.
“We're seeing women leave the workforce in droves compared to men,” Gates told ABC News. “A lot of it has to do with the types of jobs women are in, but also the caregiving that women do for children and the elderly.”
Women are losing their livelihoods faster, because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sections. According to a new analysis commissioned by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme, by 2021, around 435 million women and girls will be living on less than $1.90 a day -- including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of COVID-19.
Gates said that with so many women leaving their positions to care for loved ones, it could result in a massive setback for gender equality in the workplace.
“We could have a whole generation of women who leave the workforce,” she said. “And then if we don't deal with the caregiving crisis we've got, they may never go back.”
Gates urged President Joe Biden to support the child care sector by appointing a “caregiving czar” to address the crisis of women leaving the workforce and organize support programs.
“I think we need to coordinate our government's efforts across a number of agencies,” Gates said. “[We need] to make sure that we have the right long-term policies for paid family medical leave.”
To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given about $1.75 billion to the pandemic response, but the latest $250 million donation has been earmarked for equality. Gates said that putting resources toward helping women, especially minority women, will ultimately help society as a whole.
“My message to [leaders] directly would be women are the backbone of your society. They take care of your children. They take care of everybody else. When you invest in them, they invest in the entire community,” said Gates. “Having women and people of color in positions of power makes a difference for society. Representation matters.”