Women and girls paid a disproportionate price of the economic shutdown during the pandemic, particularly in developing economies — our policies need to prevent this becoming the new norm, argues Ouafa Haji.
Ribat (Brussels Morning) Last week the Socialist International Women held its first ever virtual international Council meeting. Since 1907, we have been organising international meetings for women in politics from all over the world. Our meetings have consistently offered a platform to share knowledge on gender-related challenges members encounter within their parties, regions and countries.
Last year, however, COVID-19 threatened to bring our work to a halt. As the pandemic grew in severity and death toll rose rapidly, it forced us into a lockdown and our meetings, could no longer continue — a major concern. For the 100 years that we have been operating, we have only been forced into a hiatus twice: during the two world wars. Today’s technology and advancements in video conferencing, however, allowed us to stay in touch this time so we held a global Council meeting last week with a range of prominent global speakers on How to reinvent our future after COVID-19.
It is now clear that COVID-19 is a long-term problem and to safeguard the health of everyone, we must reinvent our future. In just under a year, COVID-19 has changed the way we travel, how we work, how tourism operates, our economies, global trade and much more. On one level, you can say that the virus has had a positive impact, as people are rethinking their priorities and look at how they can live more purposefully and in alignment with their values. We have become more conscientious about our environment with many of us are changing our lifestyles, introducing better eating and sleeping habits and exercising. All these are positive changes that I am sure will contribute to making our world a better, healthier place for all.
But as an international women’s political organisation, we have also witnessed the negative side of COVID-19 and disproportionately impacting women and girls including with regards to poverty, unemployment and domestic violence.
The crisis has also highlighted the depressing reality of the great divide between wealthier and poorer nations. In the developing world, most women tend to work in the informal sector, one hit hard by restrictions, reducing women’s income substantially. With no employment pay benefits or protection in some of these poorer nations, women are being pushed further into poverty and hardship.
Travel and tourism has also been significantly impacted by the pandemic, consequently effecting the economies and livelihoods of many countries, especially developing nations that rely on tourism as their main source of income. Again, this has had a detrimental effect on labour market equality, as tourism is a labour-intensive service sector that employs millions of women all over the world.
With school closures and travel restrictions still in place in many parts of the world, women are also bearing most of the responsibility of childcare and providing care to other family members, who require support such as the elderly or disabled, further impacting women’s ability to focus on themselves, their wellbeing and income.
Access to healthcare and the COVID-19 vaccination was another crucial topic touched on at our meeting last week. With wealthier nations implementing strategies to vaccinate their citizens and poorer nations falling behind, that inequality is clear as the latter struggled with adequate healthcare provision even pre-Covid.
Underfunded and lacking resources, healthcare systems have been placed under immense pressure amid rising infections and deaths caused by the pandemic. If we are to improve the health and wellbeing of all, it is imperative that governments, international organisations and global humanitarian organisations urgently tackle this divide between wealthier and poorer nations.
The numerous impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls developing countries will hold back the progress in gender equality over the last few decades. We can, however, mitigate this outcome, if we take immediate action to evaluate the full impact COVID-19 on women and girls worldwide and put forward concise and effective recommendations to lessen the toll and improve coping mechanisms for new ways of living in the wake of this pandemic.
As a women’s political organisation, increasing the political participation and influence of women has always been our primary goal. To move forward, now more than ever, it is vital that women are fully engaged, active participants in decision-making around the current and future funding and implementation of all civic and social protection mechanisms, including social care, healthcare, technology, property rights, social benefits, pay and pension practices and the financial support of women both at home and in their working lives.
There are many ways we can ensure that women are supported and given the knowledge, time and personal and financial freedom to engage politically in these times of COVID-19 and thus reinvent their future. Possible options include encouraging businesses to provide working parents with childcare options, flexible working arrangements and adequately paid maternity and paternity leave; increasing free childcare resources, and support for un-paid home carers; providing favourable state financial support for female entrepreneurs and women-owned micro-businesses; providing low cost or free access to essential information and communications technology such as mobile phones and computers and access to internet and ensuring all women and girls have access to good quality education and training.
In the meantime, the Socialist International Women will continue to be a platform in which our members can come together to address both the immediate issues women and girls are currently facing because of the pandemic as well as their future needs as we move forward to reinvent and adapt to this new way of life.
Reinventing our future after COVID-19 will not be easy and straightforward for all, some countries are better prepared than others, but history has shown that we can come back and prosper after any adversity. But for the benefit of our entire global family, we must continuously advocate the changes we need to create gender equal societies.
These views are those of the author and not the editorial team at Brussels Morning.