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The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day March 8.
stalled or regressed in many countries in large part because of the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent analysis, by 2021, around 435 million girls and women will be living on less than $1.90 a day, including 47 million pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic. Global lockdowns contributed to a surge of gender-based violence worldwide, and estimates show that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the bedrock of gender equality, have been severely disrupted, resulting in an additional 49 million women at risk of experiencing an unmet need for modern contraception. Our most pressing global issues have seldom been so daunting, and fault lines in existing social, political, and economic systems have never been so deep.
Fortunately, the evidence-based solutions we need to lay the groundwork for a future that delivers for all, including for girls, women, and underrepresented populations1 , are in plain sight. As a global community, by using gender equality as our shared North Star, we can set in motion actions that help us not only recover, but come out on the other side of our most pressing global challenges stronger. Achieving gender equality, with a focus on girls’ and women’s health and rights, must be central to the actions we take in response to COVID-19, and other deeply entrenched barriers to progress, such as climate change.
On this International Women’s Day, we’re calling on governments, the private sector, and civil society leaders to firmly position gender equality as our collective roadmap for coordinated action on COVID-19 and sustainable development. As essential first steps, together, we must prioritize collecting and using disaggregated data, securing the full and effective participation of girls and women in all aspects of decision-making, and investing more in gender equality. Sustainable progress toward a world that works for everyone depends on it.
Decision-makers must collect and use disaggregated data to set equitable action in motion.
Girls and women are too often invisible to decision-makers because data and knowledge about them is either incomplete or missing. To create policies that advance gender equality by addressing the disproportionate impacts of global challenges on girls, women, and underrepresented populations, we first need to invest in disaggregated data to get a full, intersectional picture of the uneven impacts of global issues.
In August 2020, in partnership with Focus 2030, we set out to do just that, conducting a first-of-its-kind multi-national survey — in 17 countries, representing half of the world’s population — to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on girls and women, and global public opinion and expectations for policymaking on gender equality. We learned that girls and women are shouldering the worst of the pandemic’s impact: across 13 of 17 countries surveyed, women report experiencing greater emotional stress and mental health challenges than men, and taking on an even greater share of household tasks.
Girls and women must be fully and effectively engaged in charting our shared path forward.
Building a sustainable future for all requires the full participation — and potential — of girls and women in all aspects of our international and domestic response to global issues, and the realization of that potential depends on their health and rights. In fact, we now know that 82% of citizens globally believe women must be involved in all aspects of COVID-19 global health response and recovery efforts.
Crucially, we must engage today’s youth, who will ultimately bear the consequences of our action — or inaction — and who have the highest expectations for more government funding for gender equality. 75% of female respondents aged 18-24 expect their government to spend more on gender equality, and over 94% of young men and women are ready to take personal action to make sure that they do.
Gender equality is what citizens want, and it’s what the world needs to build a healthier future for all.
The resounding call for action on gender equality, matched by robust funding and accountability mechanisms, holds across countries surveyed for men and women, young and old alike. Over 80% of citizens globally want their government to invest more to promote gender equality, and are ready to act — from the way they vote, to the products they buy — to make sure that this happens. The resounding majority of citizens also believe that increasing access to SRHR is a top priority for immediate government action.
As governments, the private sector, and civil society leaders come together on International Women’s Day, and during upcoming global fora including the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women and the Generation Equality Forum to discuss how to transform words into action that improves the health of all people and the planet, ensuring that gender equality is our shared roadmap for responding to global challenges is crucial to sustainable progress now and in years to come. It’s what citizens want, and it’s what the world needs to build a healthier, more gender-equal future.
1 People of underrepresented sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expressions, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), and those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression.
The author is Interim President & CEO, Women Deliver