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Progress for women is progress for all

At the launch of the UN Women Beyond COVID-19: A feminist plan for sustainability and social justice we heard from an esteemed panel that brought perspectives, rich knowledge and experience on the core areas covered in the document. Lynda Keeru of Pamoja Communications reports back.

Hakima Abbas kicked off the ‘Beyond COVID-19: A Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice’ webinar in a powerful manner echoing the words of Arundhati Roy:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine a new world. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no different and it is a portal and a gateway between one world and the next. People can choose to walk through it dragging the carcasses of their prejudice, hatred, avarice, data banks, dead ideas, dead rivers and smoky skies; or they can walk through lightly with little luggage ready to imagine another world and ready to fight for it.”

Hakima explained how there is not a single catastrophe that affects all people the same way because people have different identities, roles, backgrounds and fill different spaces in society. Women make up the majority of the health workforce and execute key leadership roles in their everyday lives, especially in times of desperation like the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the system is designed to make some people more visible than others and acknowledge some roles more than others. 

Speaking about the report, Sarah Hendricks said that it puts forward an agenda that places sustainability, social justice and gender equality at the center of economic recovery and transformation. It also lays the roadmap for the new social contract. The plan draws key lessons from the pandemic spotlighting existing inequalities and systemic oppressions. It also discusses the building blocks of feminist economic recovery and transformation; and provides insights on the levers that will assist in achieving this mission

At the webinar we heard that 54 million women lost their jobs in 2019 and 2020. Even before the pandemic, there had been a stagnation in women’s labour participation rates over the last three decades. Closure of schools and daycares has pushed care back into homes and on women’s shoulders. However, globally, women were already doing three times more unpaid care work than men; with the figure being bigger in some parts of the world. This has serious implications for women’s autonomy, education and health. COVID-19 also led to an increase in domestic violence and in some regions, child early and forced marriages. Nonetheless, this was already the case with one out of three women and girls experiencing violence in their life time. Women hold 24% of seats on COVID-19 task forces. This means that the policies developed are in response to what is seen through men’s’ lenses and priorities. Unfortunately, this kind of underrepresentation for women is replicated in so many other spheres of power and decision making contexts.

This UN-Women’s feminist plan identifies three core areas – jobs, care and climate – where there must be policies, action and investment. During the webinar, Sarah took the participants through detailed proposals. She reiterated that governments must support these efforts in order for these innovative models that centre local knowledge to actually get to scale. She acknowledged that implementing these policies will not be easy and financing them is an even greater challenge in a context where may countries are struggling with crushing levels of debt and very limited fiscal space. However, it can be done as said by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, “In recognizing this pivotal moment we need unprecedented levels of global solidarity to actually pull us through.”

Sarah explained that breaking the vicious cycle of economic insecurity and environmental structure of exclusion politics requires unanimity; including that of governments to reconnect with the people that they serve. Historically excluded groups need to be brought squarely into decision making. Feminist leadership, multi- stakeholder mechanisms, gender mainstreaming and gender parity across institutional processes must be promoted. This must happen across all sectors including in politics, civil society, philanthropy and private sector. Inclusive rights based feminist policies could reinvigorate democratic processes and be a basis for a new social contract creating sustainability and social justice for all.

Therefore, recovery from COVID-19 is not only about recovering the ground lost on gender equality and women rights, but also, on how to tackle these very long standing and deeply entrenched challenges. The notion of ‘recovery’ provides an opening to do things differently for everyone; but particularly, for women and girls. It seeks to rebuild and ensure resilience in the face of the next big crisis.


  • Hakima Abbas, AWID
  • Serah Hendricks, UN Women