Inequality

  • The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

Trapped by the blockade, the people of Gaza cannot escape COVID-19

The recent lockdowns and restrictions make it feel like a strange time to be alive. Sadly, for Palestinians, it’s part and parcel of the struggle of everyday life. And now, as COVID-19 spreads across the globe, they face a new threat.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Gaza is already experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis. A 13-year-long blockade has devastated the economy, caused widespread destruction and left most people largely cut off from the outside world.

Ahmed will take his donkey and cart out several times a week to fetch clean water. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

With more than 5,000 people per square kilometre, the besieged enclave – where, as of 3rd April, there were 12 official cases of COVID-19 – is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Social distancing is key to keeping the virus at bay but Palestinians living under the blockade are trapped. Poor water infrastructure also means that proper hand washing is often impossible.

Residents have nowhere to go and no means of avoiding transmission. In an area where one in eight people relies on life-saving aid, the virus would do untold damage to two million vulnerable people.

A major outbreak is likely to see the collapse of Gaza’s ailing health system, which is already overrun with patients suffering from waterborne diseases. Gaza is also dependent on Israel for critical medical cases, but the threat of COVID-19 has created a level of collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis that has rarely, if ever, been seen before.

As well as the health system implications, COVID-19 could further destroy the economy of Gaza, which already has an unemployment rate of 47 percent. Small shops have shut their doors due to the crisis and business-owners have no income to pay their staff or provide for their own families. With movement restricted even more to prevent a further spread of the virus in Gaza, many families are already finding themselves unable to put food on the table.

With our humanitarian staff in Gaza bracing themselves for the worst, funding is vital to ensure that the weak economy and health system won’t completely collapse

What Oxfam is doing

With the support of Irish Aid, our teams have mobilised to urgently respond to the threat of Covid-19 in Gaza. We are providing protection equipment for healthcare workers, beds for patients in quarantine centres, soap and other essential hygiene products. We’re also providing hygiene kits to vulnerable families through our partner organisations.

Oxfam staff receiving hygiene and protective gear items that will be distributed in quarantine centres. Photo: Sami Alhaw/Oxfam

Our water engineers are ensuring public water taps used by the most vulnerable families can be used safely. With no other source of clean water, these families are most at risk of catching the virus.

We’re helping the vulnerable families put food on the table and buy hygiene items and access clean water to protect them from the outbreak. We are currently maintaining 14 water filling points in vulnerable communities where between 35,000 and 70,000 people will need to rely on depending on the severity of the outbreak. In addition, we’re spreading awareness about best hygiene and health practices to avoid further spread of cases across the West Bank, where 148 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.

International Women’s Day: How Oxfam is helping to redress the political gender imbalance in Malawi

March 8th is International Women's Day – and at Oxfam, we believe that gender equality means more than giving women and girls the same opportunities to learn and earn as men. It also means ensuring that more women are in leadership roles and encouraging more women to become politicians.

In 2018, we launched the 50:50 Elect Her campaign in Malawi to increase the number of women going into politics. We profiled female MPs in the media to inspire more women to get involved in political life and we visited their constituencies to bring our campaign messages to their communities.

Oxfam’s Lingalireni Mihowa (left) presents bikes to gender activists. Photo: Oxfam in Malawi

We provided volunteers with information on gender laws, kitted them out with bags and clothes branded with our messaging, and gave them bicycles so they could spread the word. All of this led to the first-ever Malawi Women’s Manifesto, media campaigns that reached one million people and community awareness campaigns involving 20,000 participants.

More women stood for positions than ever before, with 310 women contesting Malawi’s 2019 election, up from 261 in 2014. More than three-quarters of constituencies had a female candidate for parliament.

The visibility provided by the Elect Her campaign improved women’s chances of being elected and delivered big gains – last year, 23 percent of MPs elected in Malawi were women, up from 16.5 percent in the 2014 election. Malawi’s parliament elected its first woman speaker, while 25 percent of ministerial portfolios are now in the hands of women – up from 20 percent.

Honourable Shanil Dzimbiri with Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken and Oxfam Ireland Board member Dr Mary Murphy dance during the Elect Her community campaign to increase the political representation of women in Malawi. Photo: Oxfam in Malawi

Meanwhile, in the local elections, 669 women stood as councillors in 2019, compared to 419 in 2014. Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, elected its first female mayor, and 67 women were elected out of a total 456 councillors. Out of 36 councils, six women were picked to be council chairs and 10 as vice chairs.

Such enormous institutional changes reflect real impact and progress towards achieving gender equality.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go.

While more women in politics is an important achievement, to fully succeed it must be accompanied by policies that deliver real behavioural change in those same institutions and in wider society.

But the successes of 50:50 Elect Her gives much cause for optimism that, with your support and those of our partners, we can beat poverty and injustice for good.

So, this International Women's Day let’s take a moment to celebrate the strides we have made together in the fight for equality.

Read our submission to the Citizens’ Assembly here

International Women’s Day: Why some don’t have time to care

It’s often said that “a woman’s work is never done” – and judging by our recent inequality report on the millions of hours of unpaid care work undertaken by women and girls, that old adage is truer than ever.

As we prepare to mark International Women’s Day this Sunday, it’s worth revisiting the findings of our Time to Care report, which was launched earlier this year. We revealed that care work is the “hidden engine” that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies turning.

In many parts of the world, women and girls are the ones responsible for housework and caring for children or elderly relatives. As a result, they have little or no time to get an education, earn a decent living, become leaders in their communities or have a say in how our societies are run.

Melody Mutsauki does her family’s laundry at a lake a few kilometres from her home in Misvago region, Zimbabwe. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam

Women and girls undertake more than 75 percent of unpaid care work in the world and make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce. They carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. When valued at minimum wage this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

At home, we learned that Ireland has the fifth largest number of billionaires in the world, relative to its population, the vast majority of which are men. Women in Ireland, meanwhile, put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every week, adding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year. This is equivalent to 12.3 percent of the Irish economy.

Mother-of-four and shop owner Arlene Cinco from the Philippines also cares for her husband, Eduardo, who suffered a stroke in 2016. Photo: Jed Regala/Oxfam

In Northern Ireland, carers’ support is valued at £4.6 billion a year – but this comes at high personal cost. In addition to the financial cost of their caring role, carers often face loneliness and social isolation, as well as increased health problems of their own.

Carers NI recently estimated that one in five people in Northern Ireland provides care for a family member or friend, over 58,000 more than the 2011 census. And over half of all carers in Northern Ireland are women.

Around the world, the pressure on carers, both unpaid and paid, is set to increase as the global population grows and ages. An estimated 2.3 billion people will need care by 2030, an increase of 200 million since 2015.

So, in the run-up to International Women’s Day 2020, it might be worth considering another saying – one that reflects the true value of all this work: “If women stop, the world stops.”

Read our submission to the Citizens’ Assembly here

Rohingya crisis: Support Fashion Relief and make a difference

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

There's more to Fashion Relief than bagging a bargain or spotting your favourite celeb - it can make a real difference to families bearing the brunt of war and climate change.

Shoppers at Fashion Relief events will be supporting the world's most vulnerable communities - they include thousands of Rohingya people forced to flee Myanmar when conflict broke out in 2017. Around 700,000 people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, settling in Cox's Bazar. With 1 million people now calling it home, it is the world's largest refugee camp.

Lorraine Keane recently visited Bangladesh to see Oxfam's work on the ground for herself. So far, we've distributed vital aid including clean water and food to 360,000 people in Cox's Bazar.

Fashion Relief at Cox's Bazar | Oxfam Ireland

We’re helping people stay healthy by installing water points, toilets and showers, and distributing soap and other essentials. We’ve recruited more than 600 Rohingya volunteers to help us reach others with hygiene information, we’ve built the biggest-ever sewage plant in a refugee camp on site and our solar-powered water network delivers safe water to families.

The women’s social architecture latrine user group talks to Iffat (Oxfam Senior Innovation Officer in Public Health Promotion & Community Engagement) about their first experiences using the latrine and bathing facilities. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed

We've also provided 25,000 refugee households with vouchers that can be exchanged at local markets for fresh vegetables and ingredients. We’ve hired over 1,800 Bangladeshi locals to work on construction projects including road repairs, schools and water sources and provided almost 400 people with grants to start or expand their small businesses.

An efficient new e-voucher system enables refugees to make their purchase by simply scanning a card pre-charged with credit. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

To help women feel safer after dark, we’ve installed more than 350 solar-powered streetlights around the camp and provided 20,000 torches and portable solar lanterns. We’ve also worked with women refugees to design more secure toilets and supplied them with fabric and vouchers so they can make or order clothes they feel more comfortable wearing in public.

Oxfam has brought light to parts of the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

Sustainability in action

Fashion Relief is a key part of our work to increase sustainability across the fashion industry and support fair pay for garment workers. According to the UN, the textile industry generates more emissions than the aviation and shipping industries combined!

That's no surprise when 225,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill in Ireland each year. That's 225,000 tonnes of clothes not getting a second chance at life.

On top of that, cheap production and plummeting prices means the items we buy often end up in landfill before they should, while garment workers survive on low wages and more often than not experience poor working conditions [Source: Irish Tech News].

Join us on a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, starting with the clothes you wear. We're proud to be a solution to "throwaway fashion" by reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a longer life. We also work with retailers, encouraging them to donate their end-of-line or excess stock to us instead of sending it to landfill. That's a more sustainable solution for people and planet!

Tackle gender inequality by investing in care

When we think of gender inequality, our minds tend to leap to wage packets and glass ceilings. But for women and girls, the gender gap is evident in the countless hours they spend caring for others, as well as cooking and cleaning. These tasks are often invisible and undervalued.

Care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our global economies, businesses and societies turning – and it keeps women trapped on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Women and girls carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. If they were paid the minimum wage, this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year  more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

Elizabeth Wayua, 31 and a domestic worker, tends to the baby of her employer in Kenya. Many domestic workers are paid nowhere near the national minimum wage, perpetuating inequality. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

In Ireland, the provision of care services (for example, childcare and care for older people) by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to pay someone else to do the work – if they can afford it. The levels of support for combining paid and unpaid work are still well behind the EU average, while State supports for those who wish to receive care in their own home are limited. This sits uneasily with Ireland’s reputation as being a good place to raise a family. Meanwhile, any cutbacks or delays in investment impact women disproportionately.

Women in Ireland put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every weekadding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year. This is equivalent to 12.3 percent of the Irish economy.

 

Oxfam Ireland is asking the next government to:

  • Implement the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality related to care work. This will mean investing more in public services and social infrastructure.
  • Ensure care workers employed or funded by the State are paid at least a living wage.
  • Hold a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution to amend the language so it is gender neutral and recognises the value of care work in Irish society.
  • Allow people who care for loved ones to be employed as carers and encourage more men to participate.
  • Make all government departments report on the impact that economic and taxation policies and spending priorities have on women and girls.
  • Ensure that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) collects better data on the levels of unpaid care work. Incorporate the contribution of unpaid care work into the CSO’s economic statistics.

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