“Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” #ChooseToChallenge – The theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021, observed on March 8th, casts another global clarion call to action in our ongoing agitation for gender equity in our respective societies. Inherent in the theme is an acknowledgment that, notwithstanding the attainment of women’s suffrage in the USA in 1920 and the rise of some women to positions of leadership and management, there remain real barriers in our quest for equality and equity and many have become frustrated and fatigued with the slow pace of progress which some have come to regard the struggle.
This is why I pause to bring this message on this day. IWD is intended to celebrate and protect the gains made in the quest for gender equality, to expose the injustices and artificial constructs which still plague women and girls in our society and to organize and mobilize advocacy and thought around these issues in the context of social advancement. Today I join with many other to inspire both men and women, boys and girls to choose to challenge every construct which slows the advancement of the Beijing declaration, made 25 years ago!
#ChooseToChallenge requires us to be more demanding, insightful, strategic and bolder regarding the social, economic, political and cultural health of our women and girls.
This year’s IWD deserves a response to of epic proportions to rightfully meet the challenges presented by the enormity of the pandemic. For while it is true that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented adverse impact on every society, it is also true that the hardships presented to our women and girls have been phenomenally greater and unimaginably burdensome especially in countries where their economies are driven by services – particularly tourism. Recall that during the 2008/09 global economic recession, the global statistics revealed that women were disproportionately worse off than our male counterparts where socio-economic dislocations were concerned. Friends, the statistics from the pandemic will be worse!
In Antigua and Barbuda, it is undisputable that since March 2020 poverty has increased dramatically given the high levels of both un-employment and under-employment resulting from the COVID-19 fallout. The impact of this crisis is being felt more by women who comprise the majority of single parent headed homes and who remain responsible for both child and elder care. Equally concerning is the fact that since March 2020, with the enforcement of curfew measures and the perpetual state of emergency imposed by the government, our women and girls have become more susceptible to sexual crimes, intimidation and violence and many more continue to suffer in silence. The long-term effects of domestic violence and the negative impact of rigid gender stereotypes must be appreciated by ALL policy makers in our country in the face of this gendered crisis!
These challenges and recurrent problems are real! They require decision makers and leaders who understand the core issues underpinning these injustices and they require leadership which demonstrates an uncompromising commitment to addressing them and devising urgent and realistic solutions. Unless and until our leaders accept that our nation’s advancement is inextricably tied to the advancement of our women and girls which at its core, are issues of national security and national development, then we will continue to lag behind.
Therefore, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of IWD, “achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” requires that we elect committed, competent, bold and visionary women to our parliaments who appreciate that the complex economic and social problems facing our women and girls cannot be solved by applying a “gender-neutral” approach. We cannot afford to disregard the fact that gender specific issues require a comprehensive approach to addressing them. Specifically, government must begin to propose and pass gender responsive budgets and invest in more targeted social services programs which recognize the role and responsibilities of women as primary family care-givers.
Today the majority of our frontline workers and those most at risk to COVID-19 are our women. They are our healthcare and hospitality workers, our wholesale and retail employees, our gas station attendants, our aviation employees, our care givers within institutions and our teachers and all other service industry workers.
Government must evaluate this current crisis through gendered lens and they must also use a gendered lens approach to perennial issues and unequal contracts with which our women contend. Likewise, government must use those gendered lens to redress the imbalances in the design and implementation of job programs and other projects. Our women and our country need policy makers who are committed to driving these advancements which are tied to national development generally.
Let us amend and modernize laws addressing domestic violence and give women greater protection by the State! Let us join forces with labour unions and advocate for equal pay for our women! Let us all recognize that our collective and individual successes will be measured by how we regard and treat our women, girls and other marginalized groups. These are all moral and social imperatives which will determine how we advance as a nation. #ChooseToChallenge.