2020 was a crucial year for the world as the coronavirus crisis unfolded but it was also a critical year for women. While it was the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration on Women’s Rights, the pandemic presented insurmountable challenges to women too. How has the pandemic affected how far women’s rights have come over the last 25 years?
You’re very right. It has been a very challenging year for the world but particularly for women because, whenever there is a crisis, women are impacted more than other groups in society.
I was chairing the working group on women to the G20, Women 20 (W20), and our work focused largely on the impact of COVID-19 on women because it was a very confusing time. But the issues that came out in our discussions were the same issues that affect women whenever there is a crisis.
For example, we looked at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 on women, to see how far countries had been working towards implementing it and what the pandemic had done to its implementation. SDG 5 comprises of several targets, from ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls, to equal opportunities. Interestingly, we found that the pandemic had impacted women in each one of these areas.
Over the last 25 years, women’s rights have moved forwards in many areas, but there are still so many inequalities that exist and what the pandemic did was make the world stand naked in front of all of those inequalities.
For sure, there are more women parliamentarians today then there was [25 years ago], such as in Saudi Arabia, where I was among the first group of women to be appointed to the Shura Council. But, where there is still a challenge, is in the minds of people on a daily basis.
The fact that women are paid less than men for the same work is one example and is one of the demands that we still have on the table at the international level. It hasn’t gone away. So, although there is movement forward, there is much more that needs to be done.
The road is still a long road ahead and we need to garner support, not only from women, but also from men. In the W20 delegations last year we only had one man among us. The rest of us were women and many times you felt as if you were talking to the converted. So we need to bring more men on board particularly young men as well as young women too.
The coronavirus crisis is reported to be setting women back decades as women have had to balance working from home with increased domestic duties. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example, has revealed mothers in the UK are spending less time working while more time on domestic duties compared to fathers. This trend has also been seen in young people too with girls doing more housework than boys. Why has the pandemic presented challenges to women and girls in the domestic space?
I’m glad you’ve raised this. Many women have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, or if they didn’t lose their job, they have had to work from home and have had the additional burden of taking care of their families including children, older people or people with disabilities.
Furthermore, it’s not only that girls are taking on more domestic duties, but that they are also dropping out of school and, in many countries, reverting back to having early marriages. But, once a girl gets married, she is unlikely to go back to school so girls have been suffering too, not only women, which will impact the rest of their lives. This is one of the hidden tragedies of the pandemic that we have not been talking about sufficiently.
In addition, when we talk about social distancing, for the poor, how can you socially distance when you have 6, 7, 8, 9 people living in an apartment? Or if you supply one computer to a family and children have to take turns to have their classes? The whole idea of social distancing for the poor is not practical because where are they going to go? The challenges of the pandemic keep on escalating from one issue to another.