PHUMZA DYANI – 2020, was a year of unprecedented challenges which underscored the need for renewed action to promote and protect human rights. The COVID-19 pandemic tested societies across the globe and set back human rights gains and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. This is at the back of an already massive gap towards attaining the 2030 Goals. The multi-faceted impacts of the pandemic on gender equality, health, education, livelihoods and the economy have immensely tested efforts by the Governments, development partners and civil society. To make matters worse, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) warns of drastically slower growth through 2021, setting the global world up for a slow recovery. In simple terms, there will be an estimated increase of between 400-600 million more people in poverty across the globe. Inequalities will be exacerbated, impacting the poorest, most vulnerable and highly indebted countries. A new, worldwide hunger and poverty crisis alongside a health crisis is imminent.
It goes without saying that all the recovery endeavours need to be quick and intentionally centred around human rights gains ensuring that no one is left behind. As with any macroeconomic shock, what is clear is that people from excluded communities with little or no savings and reserves will suffer most as they cannot buffer to the shock. Losses of employment and livelihoods put further strain on families. According to an analysis published in UN Women’s recent report, Gender Equality in the Wake of the Pandemic, by 2021, 47 million women and girls will be pushed into poverty because of Covid-19. Women and girls will continuously face the pressures of increased unpaid care work, compromised mental health and anxiety whilst added as their burden is the care for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women and girls are hardest hit by the pandemic. Considering their role as the backbone of communities, their recovery should be central to a rethink of how Recovery strategies are deployed. Quite frankly, it implies that they need to be prioritised to get societies back to some form of normality. Prioritising women assures that interventions address the fundamental cracks in our society.
So, why would now be the right time to consider prioritising diversity? Surely, as we effectively reboot society, now is absolutely the right time to be putting inclusion and diversity at the forefront of whatever comes next. With all the solutions being tabled, what is becoming evident is a consistent urgency for inclusion to be at the centre of recovery. Investing in inclusive growth and unlocking the maximum productive potential of all people in communities is what is key to sustainable recovery. If not addressed in this manner, globally, we stand a chance of COVID-19 leaving a gaping hole which will introduce unprecedented poverty levels. The widening disparities in access to opportunity are growing starker, as are the disparities in outcome across gender. When adapting policies and practices in the current crisis, countries and other development partners need to devote attention to reducing, and not exacerbating existing gender inequalities. They also need to balance emergency response on the one hand, with long-term development goals on the other as an objective, though even more acute now. COVID-19 has created an opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world based on a “new social contract” that respects the rights and freedoms of all, and addresses the inequalities exposed by the pandemic. This “new social contract” uniting Governments, the people, civil society and private sector is the only way that we will meet the Sustainable Development Goals and especially leveraging the limited gains made by women and girls in the past few decades are at risk.
It then begs a question to how inclusion should be driven. First and foremost, is the need for representation of women in all Forums that are entrusted with the resources, capabilities as well as capacity for driving Recovery strategies. Decisions about the inclusion of women cannot be made without women around the table. Women need to be involved in policy setting, developmental strategies as well as the Administration roles aimed at dispensing solutions for recovery. This approach also implies ensuring women’s representation in leadership and decision making when responding to this crisis at every level, including political.
Secondly is a need for Gender specific data. There is a need to diagnose context-specific challenges in order to drive effective solutions. Leaders should consider making a retrospective assessment of the vulnerabilities of their regions’ economies before the pandemic. This data can provide baselines for evaluating the potential impacts of the crisis as well as provide context for addressing both the short term and long term requirement. Development partners need to use all tools at hand to identify challenges and risks and integrate concerns for gender equality into major decisions on issues ranging from economic stimulus packages to redoubling of financing. What is important is the improvement of policies and practices for gender equality and women’s empowerment across a range of sectors. It is critical for forecasts to include a number of scenarios at the macrolevel and at the microlevel, including post-pandemic macrotrends, to understand exactly where challenges and opportunities are likely to spring up and where there will be urgent calls for reimagination.
Thirdly, solutions need to be targeted and long term, and they will require targeted investments to ensure equity in income and wealth across demographic groups. For example, Covid19 has accelerated a need to focus on automation and more digitization which were compounded by a shift to remote work and changing health and safety standards. It is likely that workers will need both digital and knowledge-based skills to ensure that they have a place in the post-pandemic economy. Initiatives that could help achieve that goal include accelerating digital education for women to create opportunities for survival as well as access to information. Public leaders at all levels could have an important role to play in helping workers reskill to attain new and better jobs.
Investment in digital-infrastructure access is without a doubt, critical, to closing the divide. Digital infrastructure, among other public infrastructure and services, has been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the realization that public good is not shared equally across Africa. To address this effectively, broad civic engagement needs to take place. Multisector task force, including private and not-for-profit leaders, needs to be built to maximize the number of ideas from all sectors of the economy and ensure that all expertise and implementation resources are brought to bear. Policy makers could consider positioning women at the centre of designing and delivering inclusive plans. That could help those communities identify with, advocate for, and lead the work to bring in more sustained long-term investment.
Finally, execute with accountability, sustainability, and agility. Implementation is where African governments and multisector task forces most often fall short. We cannot afford that at this stage.