International Women's Day, March 8, 2022 was a national holiday in many countries, including Russia, where flower sales normally double during the three or four days around 8 March. Though, perhaps, not this year. International Women's Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, politics and in economics. Political roots of the day usual manifest themselves in strikes and protests organized to raise awareness of continued inequality. Celebrations were no doubt marred this year as much by the coronavirus that led to virtual events including the one organized by the UN as well as the vision portrayed in the global media of the multitude of women and children that make up the approximately 4 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the indiscriminate bombings of schools, churches and residential areas by the Russian army. So many of them succumbed to an untimely death. Many knowledgeable military leaders have labelled these atrocities as 'war crimes'. The irony is that Women’s Day in Russia was formalized in the wartime strike in 1917, when Russian women demanded "bread and peace”. Four days into the strike the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/events/2022/02/international-womens-day-2022
Gender Equality, Peace, and Sustainable Development
The Annual UN event this year reminded the World that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. There has been progress over the last decades: more girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. Yet the results from UN Women Policy Brief written in 2020 are still relevant today. They revealed that despite the gains, many challenges remain: discriminatory laws and social norms are pervasive, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, and 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period. The coronavirus outbreak has exacerbated existing inequalities for women and girls across every sphere – from health and the economy, to security and social protection. The hope is that policies to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse the limited progress made on gender equality and women’s rights.
A recent UN Report describes the situation around the regions of the World. A common feature is that women play a disproportionate role in responding to the virus, including as frontline healthcare workers and caregivers at home. Women’s unpaid care work has increased significantly as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people. Women are also harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19, as they disproportionately work in insecure labour markets. Nearly 60 per cent of women work in the informal economy, which puts them at greater risk of falling into poverty. The pandemic has also led to a steep increase in violence against women and girls. With lockdown measures in place, many women are trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services that are suffering from cuts and restrictions. Emerging data show that, since the outbreak of the pandemic, violence against women and girls – and particularly domestic violence – has intensified.
A 2021 Study by UN Women, Measuring the shadow Pandemic Violence against Women in A COVID 19 World is based on surveys in 13 countries. It shows that almost one in two women (45%) reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes non-physical abuse, with verbal abuse and the denial of basic resources being the most common. Despite concerns over coronavirus, marches took place around the world. In Mexico, women's groups turned metal fencing, erected to protect the National Palace, into an impromptu memorial for the victims of femicides. Meanwhile, women in Poland held protests across the country following the introduction of a near-total ban on abortion. In China, many women were given a half-day off work on 8 March, as advised by the State Council. In Italy, International Women's Day, or la Festa della Donna, is celebrated by the giving of mimosa blossoms. The origin of this tradition is unclear but it is believed to have started in Rome after World War II. In the US, the month of March is designated Women's History Month. A presidential proclamation issued every year honours the achievements of American women. https://data.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/documents/Publications/Measuring-shadow-pandemic.pdf
A UN Policy Brief 2020 shows that women are not only the hardest hit by this pandemic, but they are also the backbone of recovery in communities. Hence putting women and girls at the centre of economies will fundamentally drive better and more sustainable development outcomes for all, support a more rapid recovery, and place the world back on a footing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Every COVID-19 response plan, or every recovery package and budgeting of resources, needs to address the gender impacts of this pandemic. It recommends (1) including women and women’s organizations in COVID-19 response planning and decision-making; (2) transforming the inequities of unpaid care work into a new, inclusive care economy that works for everyone; and (3) designing socio-economic plans with an intentional focus on the lives and futures of women and girls. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for radical, positive action to redress long-standing inequalities in multiple areas of women’s lives, and building a more just and resilient world. https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_women_9_april_2020.pdf
Among the targeted response to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women and girls and to ensure that the long-term recovery benefits them, focused on five priorities:
- Mitigating gender-based violence, including domestic violence.
- Reducing social protection and economic stimulus packages to serve women and
- Supporting people and practice equal sharing of care work.
- Ensuring that women and girls lead and participate in COVID-19 response planning
- Including data and coordination mechanisms in gender perspectives.
Feminist Foreign Policy : New Directions for Breaking the Barrier
A novel recommendation has been put forward by Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s former foreign minister who launched the idea, that a feminist policy rests on four “Rs”: Rights, Representation, Resources and Realism. Accordingly there are also more inclusive views that, for example, taking intersectional disadvantages into account. But the Swedish formulation provides lessons for breaking the barrier. It advocates for girls and women to have access to the same rights as boys and men; that they be represented at all levels of government; and that adequate resources be allocated to rectifying women and girls’ disadvantages. As a way of solving these problems, the UN SG António Guterres in his 2022 International Women's Day message advocated for more women environment ministers, business leaders and presidents and prime ministers. “They can push countries to address the climate crisis, develop green jobs and build a more just and sustainable world."
Even so, what is the realistic assessment of the likelihood of success when the likes of Putin aggressively pursues the evils of traditional values that trample gender-related rights leaving them shattered for generations to come. Ukraine has demonstrated that in the midst of conflict there is the possibility of transformative change . President Zelensky, the Ukrainian army and citizens including women and girls are waging a war ostensibly to defend democracy but can the expansion of authoritarian power hostile to feminism be defeated? A sanguine view is provided by Yasmine Ergas, a Ukrainian journalist in World View, March 9 , 2022 "Will Ukraine Bury Feminist Foreign Policy or Will it Reveal their Power" She argues that bringing feminist lenses to foreign policy could change the prosecution and effects of the conflict. https://www.passblue.com/2022/03/09/will-ukraine-bury-feminist-foreign-policies-or-will-it-reveal-their-power/?utm_source=PassBlue+List&utm_campaign=1ec41e2e12-RSS_PassBlue&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4795f55662-1ec41e2e12-55057274
On a happy note - I invite you to listen to a delightful musical Tribute by the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Police Band in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.