Women push against being left behind amid pandemic recovery

ROME — Proponents of women’s progress on Tuesday launched a political push in Rome to ensure that global pandemic recovery efforts won’t leave women lagging even farther behind, with the chief of the European Union’s executive arm lamenting the scarcity of women in political leadership positions.

Advocates are using Italy’s current leadership of the G-20 grouping to campaign for pay equality, greater involvement in decision-making and elimination of cultural stereotypes that hinder women’s advancement.

“At the next G-20 summit in Rome, I could be the only woman in the group” of leaders, European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a forum examining where women lag behind and how they can catch up to men.

Italy holds a summit of G20 leaders until the end of October. While Von der Leyen didn’t elaborate, she appeared to be referring to the prospect that Angela Merkel would no longer be leading Germany’s government after elections in September.

“There could be no better reminder of how long the road towards gender equality still is,” von der Leyen said, speaking by video message at the opening of the three-day forum.

The G-20 accounts for around two-thirds of the world’s population.

The European Union is offering member states hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic billions of euros in recovery funds, but with strings attached. One of the conditions it that economic revival plans encourage more women to participate in the work force.

Italy has chronically had one of the lowest percentages of women in the workplace among fellow EU nations. Premier Mario Draghi has pledged that recovery plans would help boost employment of women. He said otherwise, the nation’s growth will be less robust.

Italian women for decades have complained about the shortage of affordable day care as well as men’s reluctance to help with household chores and child-raising, citing both factors as discouraging their taking and holding jobs.

Draghi’s Minister of Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility Enrico Giovannini acknowledged the risk that pandemic recovery funds could end up helping men more than women, especially since many jobs are in the traditionally male-dominated construction sector.

There is a risk that recovery fund projects are “more tipped toward male employment,” Giovannini told state TV. He suggested countries receiving recovery funds may need to take “corrective measures” in how they spend the money in order to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Von der Leyen said “women need the right support” if the European Union is to achieve its goal of slashing the gender employment gap by 50% within the decade.

She called for parental benefits, maternity and paternity leave and more and improved care for children and the elderly. “These policies require a cultural shift, but also adequate resources,” she said.

Italian Senate President Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati noted that in nearly all the G-20 countries women are payed less than men for the same work.