COVID-19 Recovery Requires Justice Beyond Rhetoric

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy

Opinion

Credit: Global Policy Forum

BONN, Germany, Sep 16 2021 (IPS) – Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis have exacerbated rather than reduced global inequalities. On the one hand, the net wealth of billionaires has risen to record levels since the outbreak of the pandemic (increasing by more than US$ 5 trillion to US$ 13.1 trillion from 2020 to 2021), on the other hand, the number of people living in extreme poverty has also increased massively (by approx. 100 million to 732 million in 2020).


These contrasts alone show that something is fundamentally wrong in the world.

In response to the disastrous effects of the pandemic, there was much talk of solidarity with regard to health support, including access to vaccines. But the brutal national competition for vaccines shows that solidarity is embraced by many world leaders merely as a rhetorical flourish.

The World Health Organization (WHO) made an early appeal to countries to agree on a coordinated distribution of vaccines, with available doses distributed fairly according to the size of each country’s population. This has not happened.

By the end of August 2021, more than 60 percent of the people in high-income countries had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 2 percent have done so in low-income countries.

The European Commission, the USA, the UK, and numerous other countries have signed bilateral COVID-19 Vaccine Agreements with pharmaceutical producers to secure vaccine quotas. By the end of August 2021, more than 400 agreements were concluded, securing over 18 billion doses of vaccine.

The European Commission has so far negotiated supply agreements for 4.3 billion doses of vaccine, equivalent to 8 vaccine doses per capita of the EU population. The UK could vaccinate its population 9 times with the contracted doses, the USA 10 times and Canada as many as 16 times.

Exacerbating the problem for many countries in the global South is the enormous cost of vaccines. The producers do not charge standard prices, but vary their prices depending on the quantity purchased and the bargaining power of the purchaser.

Occasionally, they grant preferential terms to rich countries, while countries in the global South sometimes have to pay higher prices. For example, the European Commission received a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine for US$ 2.19, while Argentina had to pay US$ 4.00 and the Philippines US$ 5.00. Botswana had to pay US$ 14.44 million for 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine, or US$ 28.88 per dose, while the USA got Moderna’s vaccine at almost half the price (US$ 15.00).

While the vaccine pharmaceutical oligopoly makes exorbitant profits, countries of the global South are confronted with falling government revenues and rising debt burdens. The situation will worsen as regular vaccine boosters become necessary in the coming years.

What is tantamount to a license to print money for the pharmaceutical companies is a massive burden on public budgets. In view of this dramatic disparity, the promise to “leave no one behind” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains an empty slogan.

Insufficient responses to the global health crisis

As an immediate response to the global health crisis, the People’s Vaccine Alliance has formulated “5 steps to end vaccine apartheid“. These are in line with the demands derived from the analyses in the Spotlight Report 2021.

Increasing global vaccine production capacity, lowering market prices, and substantially increasing public financial support are vital, especially for the poor and disadvantaged people in the global South.

One way to overcome the vaccine shortage is to accelerate technology transfer. In May 2020, WHO established the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), designed to pool voluntary licenses, research and regulatory data. But most countries with large vaccine production capacity, such as the USA, Germany, China and India, do not support the initiative. Thus, it has so far remained without any noticeable impact.

Faced with scarce global production capacity, India, South Africa, Kenya and Eswatini applied for a waiver under the TRIPS Agreement of the WTO to temporarily remove patent protection for COVID-19-related vaccines, medicines and devices.

The TRIPS waiver is intended to enable manufacturers in the global South in particular to produce medicines and vaccines more quickly and at lower cost. More than 100 countries support this initiative, including the USA as of May 2021.

The EU, the UK, Switzerland and the pharmaceutical companies and lobby groups based in these countries are particularly opposed and have so far blocked an agreement.

In this context, the more fundamental question arises as to whether medicines vital to realize the human right to health should be patented at all. Should they not in principle be considered global public goods, especially when, as in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, billions of dollars of public money have gone into research and development?

In another initiative, the WHO and several partners—including France, the EU and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation –launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX initiative.

This has shifted the centre of the global COVID-19 response from WHO to a multi-stakeholder initiative with its own governance and decision-making structure, thereby further weakening WHO’s role in the global health architecture.

But with the unilateral approach of the rich countries to vaccine procurement, COVAX has failed in its claim to serve a global coordination function. Its primary task is now to provide COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries with the objective to provide at least 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021.

By 14 September 2021, just 270 million doses have been delivered. To date, COVAX has received pledges of US$ 9.825 billion, nowhere near enough to provide sufficient vaccines for about 4 billion people in the 92 countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully demonstrated the absence of a functioning global health system. This reality has led to the proposal to create a Pandemic Treaty – a legally binding framework and improved global governance structures for pandemic preparedness and response.

Whether it can actually overcome structural weaknesses of the global health architecture, such as the underfunding of the WHO, is very unclear. Depending on its design, it could lead to an actual strengthening of the WHO, or to its further weakening by outsourcing pandemic preparedness and response to multi-stakeholder bodies with limited public accountability.

More transformational steps are needed

Beyond responding to the global health crisis, far more fundamental transformational steps are needed.

An essential aspect of an agenda for change is the shift toward a rights-based economy and a concept of human rights that forms the basis of our vision of economic justice.

To make this systemic shift happen, the trend towards privatization, outsourcing and systematic dismantling of public services must be reversed.

To combat rising inequality and build a socially just, inclusive post-COVID world, everyone must have equitable access to public services, which must be reclaimed as public goods and run in the common interest, not for profit.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly emphasized that human rights must guide all COVID-19 response and recovery measures. This should also mean strengthening the rights of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

First and foremost, that means the millions of workers in the healthcare sector, 70 percent of them women. Most of them experience poor work conditions, low wages and job insecurity.

The situation is similar in the education sector. Research by Education International shows that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ workloads have steadily worsened, while salaries have remained the same or even decreased.

The situation has continued to deteriorate as a result of the pandemic. The global teacher shortage, which the UN estimated at 69 million even before the pandemic, will continue to grow so long as teaching remains to be “an overworked, undervalued, and underpaid profession”.

A basic precondition for the adequate provision of public goods and services is that States have sufficient resources. To prevent the COVID-19 pandemic being followed by a global debt and austerity pandemic, governments must be enabled to expand their fiscal space and to implement alternatives to neoliberal austerity policies.

This includes implementing a progressive tax reform, which prioritizes taxes on wealth and high earners.

Over the past year, many UN officials, human rights activists and civil society groups (like in the Spotlight Report 2020) have demanded that the resources of the COVID-19 recovery and economic stimulus packages should be used proactively to promote human rights and the implementation of the SDGs.

During that time, initial studies show that this is rarely the case. A report of the Financial Transparency Coalition that tracked fiscal and social protection recovery measures in nine countries of the global South found that in eight of them a total of 63 percent of announced COVID-19 funds went to large corporations, rather than small and medium enterprises or social protection measures.

Particularly poorer countries, some of which were already facing massive budget shortfalls before the pandemic, need substantial external support to finance additional healthcare and social spending and measures to overcome the economic recession.

In this regard, the general allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) equivalent to US$ 650 billion in August 2021 – the largest distribution ever made by the IMF – has been heralded as a major achievement. However, its distribution will not benefit the countries most in need without rechanneling measures and again illustrates existing imbalances in the global economic architecture.

Only if the world collectively embarks on the path toward transformational policies is there a chance to reduce global inequalities, protect our shared planet and make the proclaimed goal of solidarity a political and institutional reality.

Jens Martens is Director, Global Policy Forum, Bonn, Germany

The Spotlight Report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

The report will be published on 17 September 2021, 9am EDT and will be available at www.2030spotlight.org

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Parliamentarians Determined to Reach ICPD 25 Goals

Africa, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, COVID-19, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Population, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Gender

Delegates from Asia and Africa met during a two-day conference to discuss ICPD25 programme of action. Credit: APDA

Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 23 2021 (IPS) – Politicians from Asia and Africa shared activism anecdotes demonstrating their determination to meet ICPD 25 commitments. They were speaking at a hybrid conference held simultaneously in Kampala, Uganda, and online.


Ugandan MP Kabahenda Flavia dramatically told the conference that women parliamentarians in her country “stampeded the budget process” to ensure there was potential to recruit midwives and nurses at health centres. Another told of a breastfeeding lawmaker who brought her child to parliament, forcing it to create inclusive facilities for new mothers.

Yet, despite these displays of determination, there was consensus at the meeting, organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development, that the COVID-19 pandemic had set the ICPD25 programme of action back, and it needed to be addressed.

In his opening remarks, former Prime Minister of Japan and chair of the APDA, Yasuo Fukuda, commented that the pandemic had “dramatically changed the world. It has exposed enormous challenges faced by African and Asian countries, which lack sufficient infrastructure in health and medical services.”

With only nine years until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Fukuda told parliamentarians they needed to respond to the swift pace of global change.

His sentiments were echoed by Ugandan MP Marie Rose Nguini Effa, who said in Africa, the pandemic had “affected the lives of many people, including the aged, youth and women. Many young people lost their jobs while girls’ and young women’s access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services have plunged.”

Addressing how parliamentarians can make a difference, Pakistani MP Romina Khurshid Alam intimated legislation was not the only route.

Other actions were needed to achieve SDGs, especially those relating to women. For example, the act of paying women the same as their male counterparts would more than compensate for the estimated $264 billion costs over ten years of achieving SDG 5 on gender equality.

Alam, who is also the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians forum, quoted figures from the World Economic Forum, which had looked at the benefits of pay equity. Each year the discrimination “takes $16 trillion off the table”.

“If we just started paying women the same amount of money that we pay men for the same job. Your country will generate that GDP. We will not have to beg anyone for that money,” she said.

The ‘shadow pandemic’ also threatens to destroy any progress made on agenda 2030, Alam said.
People were put into lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease – but not all people live in three-bedroom houses. Overcrowding in poor areas, the stress of lockdowns led to a 300 percent increase in violence.

Flavia said in Uganda, women’s issues were taken extremely seriously – their role, she said, should not be underestimated.

“Women don’t only give birth. They are the backbone of most economies,” she noted, adding that more than 80 percent of the informal sector is made up of women. She listed various laws created to ensure women are accorded full and equal dignity, including article 33 of the Ugandan constitution, which enshrined this.

Women parliamentarians saw their role as custodians of the ICPD 25 programme as action – and were prepared to act if their demands were not taken seriously, including holding up the budgeting process until critical health posts were funded.

Constatino Kanyasu, an MP from Tanzania, called for collective action.

“Developing countries should merge those efforts with other issues, by addressing Covid-19 together with ICPD+25 commitments horizontally,” she said.

In a presentation shared at the conference, Jyoti Tewari, UNFPA for East and South African regions, showed some progress indices since the ICPD conference, including a 49 percent decrease in maternal mortality before the pandemic.

However, he said there was still a long way to go, with 80 000 women dying from preventable deaths during pregnancy. However, the lockdowns during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had prolonged disruptions to SRHR services.

It was necessary to “sustain evidence-based advocacy to promptly
detect changes to service delivery and utilization, and support countries to implement mitigation strategies,” Tewari said.
Ugandan Deputy Speaker Anita Annet Among expressed concern that one in five adolescent girls falls pregnant in Africa – many of whom drop out of school. With schools closed, the situation had worsened.

She called on parliamentarians to be the voice of the voiceless and ensure “you make strong laws that protect the women and youth. Ensure the appropriation of monies that support these marginalized people.”

A declaration following the meeting included advocating for increased budgets to meet the ICPD 25 commitments, including sexual and reproductive health services for all and contributing to the three zeros – preventable maternal deaths, unmet family planning needs, and eliminating gender-based violence.

• The meeting was held under the auspices of the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) in partnership with The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and hosted by Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development (UPFFSP&D).

 

International Women’s Day, 2021Women’s Leadership in the Global Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic

Civil Society, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

UN Women China Qinghai programme beneficiaries. Credit: UN Women

BEIJING, Mar 6 2021 (IPS) – Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), and the theme for this year’s celebration is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” We recognize the tremendous contribution and leadership demonstrated by women and girls around the world in shaping our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a more sustainable future.


A global review of the progress achieved towards commitments made at the Fourth World Conference on Women 25 years ago in Beijing, conducted by UN Women in 2020, reveals that no country has fully delivered on the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. Globally, women currently hold just one-quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board and are absent from some key decision-making spaces, including in peace and climate negotiations.

This reality is despite the advances that we can see globally: there are now more girls in school than ever before, fewer women are dying in childbirth, and over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support women’s equality.

However, progress has been too slow and uneven.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains from decades of collective effort – with data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line globally.

Siddharth Chatterjee

We also witness new global challenges emerging from the pandemic, such as the increased reports of violence against women trapped in lockdown throughout the world, forming a Shadow Pandemic. Women with disabilities facing further obstacles in accessing essential services. Women have lost their livelihoods faster, being more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors as they make up the majority of informal sector workers. Access to technologies have become a necessity, but the gender digital divide lingers, particularly in the least developed countries.

But in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, women have stood tall at the frontlines, serving as health workers and caregivers, where they make up 70% of the global workforce. Women also lead in their capacities throughout government and civil society to give vital assistance, bringing their irreplaceable perspectives and skills to the table.

Answering these complex global challenges while tearing down the barriers to women’s participation and leadership now requires bolder political commitment backed up by adequate resources and targeted approaches to accelerate progress towards parity through legislation, fiscal measures, programmatic change, and public-private partnerships.

China has made progress in safeguarding women’s rights and promoting gender equality. Notably, China’s poverty alleviation achievements have had a multiplier effect on advancing women’s empowerment beyond alleviating poverty among women. Advances in girl’s education, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, social protection and assistance are admirable – and important not just for the advancement of women’s rights – but in creating a “moderately prosperous” Chinese society with a “bright shared future” for all. Yet, as in many countries, there are still challenges that persist across the course of women’s lives.

Like elsewhere, systemic issues remain in equal pay for equal work and promotion opportunities for decent work in China. Under-representation of women in senior leadership roles impacts many sectors, with less than 10% of board members of listed companies in China being women.

Smriti Aryal

Disproportionate sharing of unpaid care work leaves women in China carrying 2.5 times the burden of men, all of which impacting the female labour force participation rate. The shadow pandemic of gender-based violence, like anywhere else, continues to be a concern for women and girls in China as widely reported and discussed in media already.

The newly enacted Civil Code offers opportunities to strengthen legislation, including judicial mechanisms, law enforcement and service delivery for addressing sexual harassment, sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. Robust implementation of the provisions for ending sexual harassment and abuse will be a step towards China’s demonstration of “Zero Tolerance” towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls.

The 14th Five-Year National Development Plan, 2021-2025 and the new 10-Year Plan on Development of Women and Children, 2021-2030, also present opportunities for China to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment are at the centre of the development agenda and address the remaining gender gaps and challenges in the country. The world now looks to China for continued leadership on the SDGs and the Beijing Platform for Action.

We welcome the Government of China’s recent commitment to prioritizing women’s empowerment in its future development cooperation and global engagement. This comes at a time, when we need stronger global action and multilateralism to alleviate the long-lasting impacts of COVID-19 and accelerate actions towards the achievement of the SDGs. As we look at women’s rights issues that many countries are grappling with – poverty, maternal health, livelihood and food security, access to continued education, to name a few – are also the areas where China has seen the most progress domestically. South-South cooperation enables China to share its lessons and continue learning from others, to achieve genuine empowerment for women and girls around the world.

We recognize that gender equality and women’s empowerment are drivers for transformative change and a prerequisite for the achievement of all SDGs. The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, 2021-2025, signed between the United Nations System in China and the Government of China, is underpinned by this principle and prioritizes the advancement of women’s rights as a key programming area of its own. As the UN Country Team (UNCT), we stand ready to support and continue to work with the Government of China and all national actors for our concerted efforts towards advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

2021 is only the beginning of our journey on the Decade of Action for the SDGs. We have an unprecedented opportunity to do things differently for current and future generations of women and girls. On International Women’s Day, we call upon our partners and supporters to celebrate the leadership and contribution of China’s women, and become advocates, champions, and influencers that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment today, and every day.

Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in China & Smriti Aryal, Head of Office, UN Women in China
On behalf of the UN Country Team in China for International Women’s Day 2021

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International Women’s Day, 2021A Just COVID-19 Recovery – Not Without Women’s Leadership

Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Education, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Opinion

NEW YORK, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) – Almost exactly a year ago today, I packed my computer and a couple of necessities in the office in New York, hugged the colleagues, and headed home to what most people thought would be a couple of week’s Covid-19 lockdown. Little did we know.


Katja Iversen

Despite Trump and the blows he and his administration had dealt to sustainable development, women’s leadership, LGBTQI rights, and the right of women to decide on their own bodies and lives, there were still some optimism on the gender equality front. The number of women in politics across the globe was slowly creeping upwards; new innovative contraceptives were hitting the market; the role of girls, women and gender equality in sustainable development, was getting a lot more traction; there was a growing attention to gender smart investing; and the worldwide Generation Equality Forum, hosted by the governments of Mexico and France with UN Women, was coming up as a unique opportunity to refuel and accelerate action around Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Taking stock today on International Women’s Day 2021 with its theme: “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” the bag is a lot more mixed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequality at large, and has disproportionately affected girls and women. They constitute the vast majority of the frontline health and social workers across the globe; they carry even more of the unpaid care work at home in locked down families than before; they are the victims of the dramatic surge in domestic violence spurred by lockdowns; many women have lost access to essential sexual and reproductive health care, like family planning and safe childbirths; and women have – to a much larger extend than men – lost their jobs and economic opportunities.

Women’s rights organizations have worked tremendously hard in the communities and on the fore-front of COVID-19. Back in the first weeks of the pandemic, I myself and the civil society led Deliver for Good campaign worked with the UN Secretary General and his team on how we could place girls, women and gender equality at the center of the UN’s COVID-19 work, and we also made sure that the UN COVID-19 response and recovery fund got a solid gender lens.

However, throughout the world, women have largely been left out of decision making on essential COVID-19 efforts. Only 3.5% of national COVID task forces have gender parity according to a study in British Medical Journal, and the brand new Global Health 50/50 report being launched on 8 March 2021 suggests that rhetoric is often used as a substitute for action, and reveals that the vast majority of programmatic activities to prevent and address the health impacts of COVID-19 largely ignores the role of gender.

There is a certain irony to this, as countries with women at the helm, like New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Taiwan etc. have fared a lot better in dealing with the pandemic – and as countries with more women in political leadership in general do better in terms of both lowering inequalities and driving stronger economies. The answer to this dichotomy might be found in the latest Reykjavik Index by Women Political Leaders and Kantar, that measures how people feel about women in power. It shows that support is stagnating, and that it is even decreasing among younger men.

So, hard won progress has been rolled back. But there are also good news, which I as an eternal optimist, want to include in today’s stocktaking:

The global cry for racial justice has propelled a much and long needed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in political, economic and social life. We are also seeing a surge in gender smart investing, with 2020 bringing some big, new and achieved gender-smart allocations. A global survey from Women Deliver and Focus 2030 from January shows that the vast majority of the surveyed voters consider gender equality to be an important cause governments should work towards, and support involving women in all aspects of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. And the Biden/Harris win in the United States is manifesting in very diverse political appointments, in budget allocations, in commitments to sustainability and to gender equality, and the revoking of the republican Global Gag Rule that has prevented support to reproductive health across the globe.

The global Generation Equality Forum was postponed a year, and the work of its six action coalitions is gaining speed. Over the next three months all actors – heads of states, leaders from corporates and civil society organizations, celebrities, journalists, activists, young and old – will be meeting – mostly virtually – on multiple occasions to commit to transformative action, and show that a gender equal world is a healthier, wealthier, and better world for all.

So – as I am celebrating International Women’s Day 2021, it is on a backdrop of hope, some apprehension, and a lot of determination. The inclusion and leadership of girls and women, in all their rich diversity, is needed in every arena and at every level – in COVID-19 efforts, in politics, in the economy, and in general. If we don’t prioritize and invest in women’s leadership, the COVID recovery will be less effective, and the future will be less just and less sustainable. That is not the world we want!

The author is an executive adviser and leading global advocate on sustainability, gender equality, and women’s health and leadership. Katja was a member of President Macron’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s G7 Gender Equality Advisory Councils, an advisor to the Clinton Global was one of the original members of 100Women@Davos, and was recently named Dane of the Year, as well as included in Apolitical’s Top 20 of the Most Influential People in Gender Policy.

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International Women’s Day, 2021The World Not Only Needs Women Leaders – It Needs Feminist Leaders

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Economy & Trade, Education, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day, March 8.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

PARIS and REYKJAVIK, Mar 5 2021 (IPS) – International Women’s Day pays tribute to the achievements of women worldwide and reminds us what still needs to be done for full gender equality. In 2021, we are taking stock of the many ways in which COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women and girls around the world.


The pandemic has created a new landscape. Although women have played a key role in responding to the crisis, gender inequalities have widened across the board. In education, 767 million women and girls were impacted by school closures. Eleven million may never return to class, joining the 132 million already out of school before the crisis struck. From the economic perspective, the recession is pushing 47 million more women and girls into poverty, destroying their economic independence and making them more vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence.

As we look at this landscape, we have to ask ourselves: if gender equality is our goal, what kind of leadership will the world need moving forward?

It is not enough to just count the number of women in the highest positions of power. No single person at the top of the pyramid can repair the damage being done to the progress that has been made in gender equality since the world adopted the Beijing Declaration on women’s rights 25 years ago.

What we need are leaders for gender equality – and we need them everywhere in our societal structures. Leaders of all ages, all gender identities and from all backgrounds. These leaders are not just agents of change, but designers of change. They lead through their example and engagement. They expose injustices and unequal opportunities. They know that gender inequalities stem from discrimination and exclusion and that it is only by lifting these barriers that real change can happen. This is feminist leadership.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

Feminist leaders tackle power structures. They name and deconstruct all forms of exclusion and marginalization. They empathize with the vulnerable and voiceless, and champion their causes. They open new doors and take risks, courageously blowing the whistle on hidden injustice, and unmasking structural barriers perpetuating inequalities. They are all around us. Be it the activist defending an indigenous community, the schoolgirl mobilizing her generation to save the climate, or the poet raising her voice to promote social justice.

Feminist leaders have the courage to create, report, educate, experiment. Think about Azata Soro, actress, film director and producer who broke her silence on sexual harassment and violence in the African film industry. Think about Maria Ressa, risking jail for her brave investigative journalism. Think about Yande Banda, a tireless advocate for girls’ education in Zambia and beyond. Think about Katalin Karikó, who overcame the many challenges faced by women in science and was instrumental in developing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. As stories like these become known, they challenge people’s intimate convictions of what is achievable and by whom. These women are, in all their diversity, feminist leaders.

However, feminist leadership is not the prerogative of women alone. Gender equality isn’t just a women’s fight, it’s a fight for social justice. Men also need to be involved in the construction of a fairer society. Many of them are showing the way. The Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy to stop rape from being used as a ‘strategy of war’. And there are many others like him, all over the world.

On this International Women’s Day, we stand committed to building future generations of feminist leaders through education. We support women who dare to create and do what is necessary to prevent them from censorship and attacks. We call on the international community to ensure the safety of women journalists who address gender inequalities through their reporting. We also stand side by side with men who dare to care and reject toxic masculinities and behaviours and open up spaces for women to influence decision-making or participate in scientific discovery and innovation.

Let us support these feminist leaders, from all walks of life. Let us take action so that women can affirm their leadership and be powerful role models for generations to come. Because gender equality not only serves to advance the cause of women – a fairer society benefits us all.

Audrey Azoulay is Director-General of UNESCO and Katrín Jakobsdóttir is Prime Minister of Iceland.

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International Women’s Day, 2021To Lead is to Serve — A Pacific Woman’s Perspective

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Gender, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy, Women in Politics, Women’s Health

Opinion

The following opinion piece is part of series to mark International Women’s Day March 8.

SUVA, Fiji, Mar 1 2021 (IPS) – An often quoted indigenous reference in the Samoan language is, O le ala i le pule o le tautua, literally translated, “the pathway to leadership is through service” because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve.


Since world leaders endorsed the blueprint for gender equality in Beijing 1995, women in leadership has dominated in numerous conversations and forums in terms of the need to increase women in leadership as a critical factor to achieve gender equality. Many of the perspectives shared, are about facilitating opportunities for women, advancing women in fields dominated by men, particularly in the sciences, and achieving equality in decision-making. Women in leadership has become a popular discourse from development, to academia, to politics, to science and innovation; and organisations across all sectors are recognizing the importance of inclusivity and equity for achieving sustainable development.

The 2020 Pacific review of the Beijing Platform for Action, 25 years after Beijing, highlighted that Pacific states still have a long way to go in achieving balanced representation of women in national parliaments. With the exception of the French Territories where equitable representation of women in their legislative assemblies is ensured by the French ‘parity law’, women’s representation in national parliaments across the region is shockingly low and temporary special measures (TSMs) are only used in a few states. At all levels, and across all nations, gender power dynamics disadvantage women as decision makers; and socio-cultural norms in the Pacific see men as the ‘natural’ spokespeople for families, communities and governments. That said, the report also noted an increase in women’s participation in all levels of decision-making at community levels, in public service and in civil society organisations. This raises a number of challenging questions.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara

Where does this lead us in a pandemic environment? COVID-19 has exacerbated existing and ongoing inequalities in the Pacific, hindering what is already very slow progress for achieving gender equality. The evidence is quite clear as to where these inequalities are found and policy dialogues and talanoa sessions held within the region over the last two and a half decades, have generated a multitude of recommendations on what can be done by governments and as a region. What then is the problem, we ask ourselves? It’s the resourcing, the response, the lack of political will and commitment, and the list goes on, that women leaders and women engaging in the gender space, know all too well.

So, what can we do and what does this mean for Women in Leadership? The answer lies in our ongoing concerted efforts to have women at the table with an equal voice to speak for the 50% of our population. We will keep pushing to have women leaders at the table who understand women’s lived experiences and needs, and that these are translated into decision-making on resource allocation and prioritisation. We need women who lead, knowing that they have families and communities to attend to after work, and appreciate the value of unpaid care work. More importantly, we need the same women leaders at the table to share those perspectives with their men counterparts, to affect change that will transform societies and enable positive and inclusive change for gender equality at all levels in society and across all locations – urban, rural and remote.

Our unprecedented experience with COVID-19 has changed the way we live, the way we work and certainly the way we exercise leadership and deliver service. It has reminded us that with border closures and travel restrictions, we need to be searching within our own borders and within our own societies for solutions. One of these solutions is for us to utilize and capitalize on the often-untapped skills, knowledge and expertise of women, to generate solutions for our development challenges. The role of women, as we are seeing in recovery efforts across the Pacific, is a testament to the service they continue to provide for our families and our communities. It is evidenced in women’s resilience and their significant capabilities in managing our communities and societies through multiple disasters and climatic events over the years, and through the multitude of cultural and customary obligations that we have all lived through, and will continue to live through. It is a reflection of women’s knowledge of our Pacific ways of knowing and ways of being, gathered and passed down from generation to generation.

The impacts of COVID-19 are huge and as a region and as a people, it will take some time to navigate our way through these impacts towards full recovery. However, if there is one learning that I take away from this crisis, it is our ability to remain resilient and to continue to serve each other and our people, with our women holding the fort in all our societies and communities across the Pacific Ocean, through their ongoing service. It is a manifestation and a living example of leadership through service, because to be able to lead is to be willing to serve, and being able to serve is being able to lead, and such is the spirit of Pacific women in leadership.

Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara is Acting Regional Director, Polynesia Regional Office Pacific Community (SPC)

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