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Campaigners call for action addressing pandemic's impact on women

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By Michael McHugh, PA

Emergency action should address the pandemic's disproportionate impact on women, campaigners in Northern Ireland have said.

Four-fifths of health and social care staff and 85% of all part-time workers are women, while 70% of those ineligible for statutory sick pay are female and face losing their income if they stay at home, lobbyist Rachel Powell added.

A Covid-19 Feminist Recovery Plan considers the economic, health, social and cultural impact of the disease and calls on the Executive to implement policies on key issues like childcare and low-paid work.

Ms Powell said: "Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis economically and socially."

The report urges emergency economic and social measures across a wide range of issues, like provision of free childcare.

Ms Powell added: "Inequalities facing women have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and childcare is no exception.

"Many women face stark choices between their work and childcare commitments, as school closures and limited access to childcare settings creates significant challenges for families.

"We are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive and all ministerial departments to work with the women's sector and childcare sector to develop an effective strategy that will address these inequalities."

The 126-page report argues that, despite vast evidence highlighting the effect of Covid-19 on women, the Northern Ireland Executive has largely ignored the gender implications of the crisis.

If this continues to be the case, women will suffer disproportionately for many years beyond the pandemic and decades of progress on equality will be lost, the document said.

It added: "If the Northern Ireland Executive truly wants to end gender inequality in Northern Ireland, we need to see a commitment to substantive acknowledgement of the gendered harms of Covid-19 and meaningful steps to address these.

"We want to work with the Government, and all departments, to ensure that all policymakers are aware of the negative impact certain policy decisions are having on women.

"We have the expertise to inform Covid-19 recovery planning and we have the evidence needed to inform relevant strategies, legislation and the Programme for Government."

The plan has been supported by the Assembly's All-Party Group on Women, Peace and Security.

On June 30, Finance Minister Conor Murphy announced a £10.5 million allocation for childcare over July and August.

This will help settings to reopen and continue to support the recovery of those who have already done so. It will apply to day nurseries, school-age childcare settings and childminders.

A £12 million funding package - the Covid-19 Childcare Support Scheme - was announced by the Health and Education Ministers in April.

Some childcare providers, mainly day nurseries, benefited from other forms of government support, such as the £10,000 small business grant.

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