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Empowering women towards an equitable future in the Covid-19 era

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The struggle of women in South Africa and around the world continues. The journey has been long and strenuous, given the changing political context in most countries around the world, exacerbated by unforeseen circumstances such as Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted on women disproportionately relative to men. As the world grapples with socioeconomic recovery from the effects of the pandemic, the call for women to rise and play a leading role in the various recovery processes has gained traction in society as Covid-19 continues to reshape policy landscapes globally. To this end, the Democracy Development Program in partnership with the Konrad Adeneur Stiftung (KAS) and the Mail & Guardian convened an online webinar to explore how gender equality can be achieved in the current circumstances.

The delegates reiterated that governments, institutions, and the international community must work collaboratively ensure that the post-pandemic economy and society are more gender equal and maximise opportunities for women in all sectors irrespective of their socioeconomic status. The result will be greater sustainability and resilience.

The present socioeconomic and political situation requires us to ensure that the crisis does not exacerbate existing gender inequalities that affect women’s access to leadership, resources and equitable economic opportunities. It presents us with the impetus to involve them as part of the solution for socioeconomic resilience beyond the pandemic. Now, more than ever, an inclusive agenda that considers gender-specific roles and needs is essential.

However, how can this gender equality be realised in the present social, economic, and political environment? First, women must be given the highest priority in participation in strategic decision making and policy development processes. This way, women’s voices are heard, recognised, respected and acted upon by governments, corporates and political parties to mention a few, in an authentic way that is not just tokenism.

Second, it is important that political parties appreciate that women are not just an important voting constituency, they are leaders by their own right and deserve to be given opportunities to lead both in government and in political parties themselves. It is important to note that women’s political participation and leadership is a human rights issue and central to economic growth and sustainable development. The active participation of women, on equal terms with men, at all levels of decision-making and political involvement is essential for the achievement of equality in society. Moreover, the inclusion of their perspectives and experiences into the decision-making processes is key to the promotion of sustainable development and social cohesion.

Third, because of prevailing social norms, it is imperative for governments to review their policies concerning provision of social services, as women continue to bear the burden of unpaid care work. The homecare economy continues to stifle women’s potential to thrive due to the existing social and gender norms in society. Therefore, the task of the government is to create all-inclusive social policies that cushion women from the adverse effects of non-responsive development policies as well as from the effects of public health emergencies such as Covid-19.  At the same time, both public and private sectors must increase their investments towards women-led businesses — small and large — to ensure that they enjoy better financial, health and economic security.

Fourth, the fight about violence against women must now be elevated beyond policies and strategies to implementation and strengthening of justice systems to ensure laws and policies are implemented as well as ensuring swift response to violence that is decisive and sufficiently punitive to root out the scourge of gender-based violence in society. Men must also be included in the conversation on eliminating such violence. Furthermore, societal-wide dialogues focusing on changing the social and cultural practices and norms that perpetuate violence must be convened by all stakeholders involved in advancing the cause of women in society.

Overall, empowering women in society to take the lead in all aspects of society is crucial as economies strive to recover from the effects of the pandemic. It is a noble task for every well-meaning citizen to participate in rebuilding a caring, more humane, and sustainable society.

Given the myriad, complex challenges that women continue to face, our government at all levels of governance must put women at the centre of their post-Covid-19 recovery and socioeconomic policies. Failure to put them at the centre means widening inequality gaps and more instability in society. The time to act meaningfully and decisively is now!

Dr Paul Kariuki is the Executive Director of the Democracy Development Programme (DDP). He writes in his personal capacity. 

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