Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children

  • Opinion by Mary Robinson (Dublin)
  • Inter Press Service

Millions of women bear a disproportionate responsibility for care. Many women have found themselves unable to access contraception and other sexual and reproductive health services. ONE experts predict that as many as 13 million more child marriages could take place over the next 10 years due to school closures and COVID-19 family planning services combined with growing economic challenges.

Women and girls from marginalized and minority communities are particularly at risk – in the United Kingdom for example, black women are more than four times more likely than white women to die from COVID-19.

COVID-19 risks damaging much of the progress towards gender equality that I and other activists have spent our lives working for. As President of The Elders, a group of independent world leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, I have the privilege of working alongside two other women who were, like me, the first women leaders in their country – Gro Harlem Brundtland from Norway, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia. I also seek to serve Mandela’s vision of a world of peace, justice and human rights alongside pioneering human rights lawyer Hina Jilani who established Pakistan’s first women’s law firm. and Graça Machel, a tireless fighter for the education and emancipation of women. We are all deeply concerned that women seem to already bear the brunt of the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19 and that this pandemic may widen the gender inequality gap.

This year, we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, where representatives of 189 nations pledged “the full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life. “. We’ve made positive progress over the past 25 years: more girls than ever complete primary school; the proportion of young women married as children has available in the world from 1 in 4 to about 1 in 5.

however, as a major report to mark birthday notes, we now need a new roadmap to advance gender equality that draws on the wisdom and experience of women leaders from all sectors, as well as new, younger voices.

COVID-19 has clearly exposed the underlying inequalities and has reminded us all that rights on paper are not necessarily rights in practice. I am disappointed with the slow pace of progress in political representation and leadership of women. Fifteen countries now have women at the highest level of political power – down from 5 in 1980, but down from a peak of 18 in 2018. The number of women in parliaments remains less than 25 percent on average. This under-representation of women in positions of political power and influence appears to be recurring in COVID-19 task forces. However, we have seen that countries led by women seem to have been very effective in dealing with the pandemic.

Seeing how women and girls are mobilizing to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic is what gives me hope and energizes me. There are many examples. Dejana Stosic heads a civil society organization in Serbia, Human Rights Committee Vranje, which provides a free 24-hour online service to support survivors of gender-based violence. Jamie Margolin is a young climate activist who uses her platform to raise awareness of the intersection of COVID-19, the climate crisis and racial injustice. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf works with several women leaders across Africa that successfully advance the fight against COVID-19.

Women’s leadership at all levels must be at the heart of the pandemic response if we are to prevent a decline in women’s rights. We must support the collective action by women, especially grassroots groups, and stand together and encourage the next generation of leaders.

History has shown us that crises can also produce some of the most seismic changes. One of my great feminist heroines is Rosa Luxemburg, who fought for freedom in Poland and Germany before, during and after the First World War. A little over a century ago, she declared that “freedom is always freedom for those who think differently“.

Today more than ever, we need to think differently about justice and gender equality. As the world charts a course for a post-pandemic future, we must harness our collective strength – rethink, reset and build a better world for future generations.

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© Inter Press Service (2020) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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