COVID-19: A time for strength, humanity and kindness
In this time of upheaval, we are seeing new depths and dimensions to our global sisterhood. The women’s rights movement is responding to COVID-19 with strength, humanity, and kindness. We will come out on the other side of this understanding more about ourselves, each other, and what we are capable of achieving together.
Like so many others, the Equality Now team is recalibrating our work as we adapt to these changing times. However, what has not changed is our commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls through the law, as well as ensuring that our staff are safe and supported.
Life is changing but the same structural inequality prevails -- solutions require a gendered lens
Ensuring legal equality and protecting women’s and girls’ rights in “normal” circumstances is critical, but during emergency situations, there is an added urgency. COVID-19 doesn’t respect boundaries nor divisions and yet it is clearer than ever before that those disadvantaged in “normal” life struggle even more in times of crisis. We know women and girls will experience this crisis differently.
Structural inequality exacerbates already dire situations. Women will bear a significant burden during this crisis as nurses, ancillary workers, care workers, cashiers, and cleaners. Not only will they be on the front line, risking their health and the health of their families, but they will also be the ones who struggle financially due to poor pay and insecure employment.
Discrimination in law exacerbates this situation. Across the world women are denied certain jobs, paid unfairly, constricted by guardianship systems that treat them as minors, denied equal access to services, and are not allowed to make their own decisions. This gives them fewer options to provide for and protect themselves and their families, even as they bear a disproportionate burden of caring for others. Women in self-employment and the informal economy, whether taking time off for illness or caring are unable to continue their work, will suffer a loss of income with no safety nets.
And violence against women may increase. Those vulnerable to or who suffer from intimate partner violence will find themselves at greater risk as they are locked in with their abuser, isolated from help and support. Additionally, women will be at greater risk of exploitation, sexual violence in the home and neglect. We are likely to see an increase in child marriage to “protect” young girls from worsening economic and security situations and in some places, a consequential higher incidence in female genital mutilation.
Predators will take advantage of the changing situation of quiet streets or adolescents online, increasing the risk for key workers on their way home and grooming teenagers online while alone in their rooms as their parents work from home. As in the Ebola crisis, we are likely to see the sexual exploitation of girls with potential consequential pregnancies and STIs. Within days of people working from home due to COVID-19, we saw the emergence of ‘zoom bombing’ of shared work platforms (where extreme violent pornography is channeled into virtual meeting rooms by hackers).
Life is changing but the same structural inequality prevails so we must be on our guard and alert to the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Equality Now is needed now more than ever.
Women and girls rights groups are crucial in this time
It is critical in times of crisis that the rule of law be upheld and that emergency policies and plans are made through a gendered lens. As policies and life shifts around the world, Equality Now and our partners aim to hold governments to account for respecting the human rights of women and girls and adhering to the rule of law.
- Enduring equality for women and girls: Our teams are recalibrating how we continue to deliver on our commitments to facilitating long term systemic change. We are organizing webinars, online training and mentoring; ramping up digital advocacy campaigns; virtual convenings and making use of time to prepare for faster delivery as and when things get back to a more familiar normal. This week we launched the Global Campaign for Equality in the Family which, when successful, will change the lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls globally.
- Monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls: Equality Now is listening to women and girls from across our global network and working with partners to understand the full impact that COVID-19 has on the lived reality of women and girls; sharing learning and potential solutions with organizations around the world; and amplifying the experiences of women and girls online and through the media, so governments recognize and respond to the emerging dynamics and vulnerabilities. We’ve already asked governments in Africa to take measures to prevent the sexual abuse of girls now that schools have closed, based on our learning from the Ebola crisis.
- Harnessing the power of a global movement: We are so grateful to our supporters, partners, and funders who share our vision for gender equality. Each of them contributes to making our collective work possible! We will be working with our network to do all we can to take forward our shared mission during these challenging times, identifying threats and supporting each other to mitigate risks and find solutions.
Your support for our shared goal is precious. By standing in solidarity, with strength, humanity, and kindness we will emerge from this crisis into another new more exciting normal, where we will be stronger and better connected than ever before. Thank you.