Miles to go before we sleep: the fight for women’s rights cannot falter now8 March 2021
While we all hoped 2021 will be kinder than its precursor, we’re finding ourselves in the midst of navigating, planning and responding to the newest pandemic trends and economic crises while we care for sick loved ones, balance work, economic pressures and childcare. Despite these increasing pressures, International Women’s Day is a good day to reflect on the fact that there’s no time to rest when it comes to the struggle for gender equality. We are seeing the biggest regression on women’s rights we have seen in decades. Our energy, voices and actions are needed more now than ever before.
These are some of the biggest challenges to the women’s movement in 2021 and some ideas on how we can all hold the frontline in our personal lives and our work in the peacebuilding sector.
1. COVID-19: women face a triple burden while violence is increasing in the home
The pandemic has forced women out of jobs, as women make up the majority of the informal economic sector (over 80% in South Asia, 74% in sub-Saharan Africa, and 54% in Latin America and the Caribbean) and have had to shoulder the added responsibilities that lockdown measures have brought: increased domestic work and caring responsibilities, and home educating children. Lockdown measures have also brought a huge increase in domestic violence across the globe, with some classifying it as a shadow pandemic.
COVID-19 analysis, data and response should be gendered, including that of the impact of COVID on peace and security; we should call for women to be part of emergency response teams and policy-making; and ask for economic measures to support the women most affected by the crisis (rural women, women from marginalised groups, women refugees and internally displaced people, and women in fragile and conflict affected countries) and their ability to participate meaningfully in peacebuilding and peace processes. A recent report that Saferworld did with GAPS UK and other partners, including the Somali Women’s Development Centre, shares timely analysis and recommendations to do this.
We cannot stop fighting back against the rise of gendered violence: we need to continue to call for increased funding to existing domestic abuse services, adapt services to current needs and situations (such as allowing survivors to seek help discreetly at pharmacies and supermarkets) and campaign for women’s lives to be valued and protected as a matter of public health and human rights. We also need to call for governmental policies and strategies to transform the discriminatory gender norms which underpin inequality that the pandemic has widened. We should continue to build our analysis and capacity to design programmes that address gendered tensions, conflict and violence in and outside the home in gender-transformative ways. We must move away from a male-centric, exclusionary understanding of peace that treats tensions and violence in public spaces as a peacebuilding issue, while treating tensions and violence in private spaces as a women’s issue, a protection issue or a human rights issue. We should all reflect on how we can challenge some of the norms and practices that fuel inequality and violence against women and girls at home, community and within the peacebuilding sector too.
2. Women’s participation in public life (and peacebuilding) is decreasing
COVID-19 and populist governments who are pushing back on years of progress on women’s rights threaten women’s roles in public and social life, fuelling and exposing the barriers that patriarchal systems posed to women’s rights to equally participate in decisions at all levels. Women are underrepresented in parliaments, high-level positions and local governments and even before COVID-19, women’s participation in the labour force fell from 51% in 2000 to 48% in 2019.
As peacebuilders, we should be calling for world leaders, community leaders, men and boys at home to understand the importance of women’s leadership and gender equality to peace and security. We should also call on governments to recognise that women’s rights are integral to addressing the pandemic, to beating poverty and to achieving peace; and ask them to enact and resource specific policies to increase women’s meaningful participation. In places where active conflict and peace processes are occurring, we should be increasingly partnering with and supporting women’s organisations, and integrating women’s meaningful participation in all of our programming, policy and advocacy work. We also need to reflect as a sector how we are addressing the barriers that women in the peace and security sector face to be heard and reach leadership positions.
3. Making the women’s and the peacebuilding movements more inclusive
2020 was not all bad and the anti-racism movement brought us a much-needed global awakening. Black women, women of colour, rural women and women from minorities have always been at the intersection of many systems of oppression, including patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. We must work towards surfacing women’s different and intersecting needs within our policy and practice, and giving them the agency they deserve within our own movement and organisations.
The women’s movement must strive for a truly intersectional approach, where the rights of women from marginalised groups and their participation within the movement are at the centre of our work. From Dalit women in Nepal and India, Rohingya women in Bangladesh, lesbian and trans women in Uganda, and rural and economically deprived women all around the world, our movement must be as inclusive as ever if it wants to maintain its integrity, relevance and spirit. As peacebuilders, our analysis needs to be truly intersectional, our action needs to be informed, shaped and led by an understanding of the different oppressions women face and it should provide a platform for those diverse voices on what needs to be done in peacebuilding programming, policy and research. This is the only way in which we will be truly working towards a positive and inclusive peace.