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COVID-19 pandemic: 5 lessons learnt on integrating gender into climate risk insurance schemes

1 July 2020

By Katherine Miles and Martina Wiedmaier-Pfister 

Decades of progress towards gender equality have been threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Predictable gender-risks and potential differential impacts were ignored in pandemic planning and early response and now it’s an exercise in damage limitation. If gender-specific data were efficiently collected and the use of risk information was readily available to policy makers, some of these challenges, for example the increased level of domestic violence, could have been foreseen and the repercussions mitigated with more effective response.  As parallels are drawn between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate emergency, there is an opportunity to reflect on the gender-related lessons learned for stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of sovereign catastrophe risk pools. These risk pools provide payouts to countries in case of disaster to ensure rapid emergency assistance and reconstruction, in line with the emergency plans in place by member governments.


1. Women’s involvement is essential to determine disaster risk reduction plans and payout priorities

Women leaders from New Zealand to India, such as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister KK Shailaja, have been praised for the most successful country-level and sub-national COVID-19 responses. This indicates the value of inclusive and participatory processes to develop disaster risk reduction (DRR) plans based on the all-of-society engagement principle of the Sendai Framework. As CARE International, co-chair of the InsuResilience Global Partnership Gender Working Group, has argued: men and women bring different perspectives to understand and respond to crisis. In addition to men, women need to also participate in determining the payout priorities of climate risk insurance provided to member governments of sovereign risk pools, such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC) or the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF). But this requires greater participation of women in senior positions in the key ministries and authorities involved in these decisions, such as in the Ministry of Finance, Insurance Supervisory Agency and other entities responsive for disaster responsiveness, climate adaptation, insurance, gender equality and women’s affairs. To address this, the Access to Insurance Initiative (A2ii) and the InsuResilience Global Partnership are funding scholarships for senior insurance supervisors and high potential women from Burundi, Bolivia, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Ghana to participate in Women’s World Banking’s nine-month Leadership and Diversity Programme for Regulators. In light of the pandemic, participants will continue to participate in the course remotely. The course is intended to build the women’s leadership pipeline in regulatory organizations and recipients of the scholarship are committed to gender . Indeed, contingency plans are a prerequisite for government´s wishing to purchase insurance policies from ARC Insurance Company Limited (ARC Ltd) and women’s involvement in this process is also a key aspect of ARC’s gender strategy and action plan.


2. Childcare infrastructure should be a payout priority for sovereign schemes in disaster recovery planning

Lockdown brought an unprecedented global wave of school and nursery closures. In addition, overnight informal childcare arrangements provided by grandparents, friends and other carers ceased as populations in many countries retreated into isolation. The gender dimension of the economic impact has been that parents, predominantly women taking care of their children now have been more likely to have lost their job, or to have been furloughed as a result of school lock down. Their working hours have fallen more proportionally, and women’s worktime has been more interrupted by childcare. While at the same time their overall workload has considerably increased – with more time spent on housework during lockdown due to being confined to home. This is in a context where it’s long been recognised that women’s unpaid responsibilities increase post disasters. National DRR plans can address the implications of the gender division of this unpaid care, which limits women’s economic participation. As these plans define payout priorities for sovereign risk pools in the case of a disaster, childcare infrastructure for the youngest children requiring the most parental supervision, can and should be a high priority to ensure gender-inclusive economic recovery.


3. Resources need to be allocated to address violence against women and girls

The COVID-19 lockdowns have led to increases in domestic violence worldwide as women and children are locked down with their abusers. Some countries such as Australia took early steps to address the rise during the global pandemic, but elsewhere the response has widely been considered too-little too-late. There is evidence of a heightened risk of violence against women and girls post a disaster. It’s imperative that priorities for payouts of sovereign risk pools should be to prevent and address gender-based violence risks post disaster.


4. Gender specific barriers to access emergency payouts need to be assessed and addressed

The UN has called for an intentional gender-lens to be applied in the design of fiscal stimulus packages and social assistance programmes to provide social protection amid the socio-economic fallout of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is in a context where in some places women have experienced greater levels of unemployment as a result of the crisis, and whose work is concentrated in some of the most severely hit sectors, such as retail and garment supply chains. Likewise, payouts to individuals and businesses from sovereign risk pools need to equally apply a gender lens in their design. Indeed, women are at greater risk of poverty if they are separated, widowed, or single mothers, and they are also overrepresented among those who lack access to social protection due to informal employment. Practically, this means considering gender differences in eligibility of such schemes to ensure they are equitable and the poorest women as well as men can receive assistance. Moreover, there is a need to consider any potential gender differences in barriers to access these cash payments for individuals due to a lack of mobile ownership or mobile money account, if an existing mobile money account is a prerequisite to receive cash transfers, which in times of disaster (or pandemic) is a key element. At the same time, ensuring all people have a digital account can speed up access to such payments at a time of a disaster.


5. The value of sex-disaggregated data for catastrophe risk modelling

Initial data suggests that the male population with an age of 70 and beyond have experienced a higher death rate from COVID-19.This insight has been captured due to the collection and analysis of sex- and age-disaggregated mortality rate data. The collection of sex-disaggregated risk data is also relevant in risk modelling for the development of catastrophe risk programmes. Risk models that inform climate risk insurance schemes of sovereign risk pools can use sex-disaggregated data on mortality, morbidity, economic participation, business ownership and time use surveys, as well gender risk data from composite indicators such as the World Bank’s Findex or the Women Business and the Law index. This data can also inform product design for cash-transfer schemes and payout priorities for specific sectors, regions and target groups. Increasing the integration of such information in different types of risk models will support more targeted allocation of government resources to support an inclusive approach to disaster recovery, ensuring gender-responsive solutions for both, men and women.

The InsuResilience Global Partnership Gender Working Group is committed to driving efforts to implement a gender action plan designed to encourage gender responsive approaches to climate and disaster risk financing and insurance. Find out more on approaches to integrating gender into different models of climate risk insurance in the InsuResilience publication on the same theme here.


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