Building back better, with women in the lead

Message by the Acting Director of UN Women Regional Office for East and Southern Africa

Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March 2021 was marked by the first almost entirely virtual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), focused onMarch 2021 was marked by the first almost entirely virtual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), focused on "Women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls."

It is also now one year since the pandemic was declared. We have a clear sense of the impacts, which continue and are deepening. All of the countries in the region have lost significant percentages of national revenue; people have lost livelihoods; schools are closed in many countries and states are stretched to capacity to meet the social protection needs of the most vulnerable.

Everywhere, women bear the disproportionate burden of care for children and families. They do so with insecure incomes, engaged in the informal sector without social or labour protection; have higher levels of un- and under-employment; uneven access health services, water and sanitation. Within this pre-existing context of intersecting inequalities, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are at once severely negative and yet still untold.

As the world retreats inside homes due to the lockdown measures, reports showed an increase in the already existing pandemic of violence against women. This includes not just domestic violence but also sexual assaults in the communities. We are seeing a rise in early and forced marriage and early and premature parenting.

In short, this is a time of overwhelming challenge, for the state, for communities, for families and individuals.

But it is also a time that reminds of our mutuality and our interdependence. The impacts of COVID-19 draw attention to the ways in which we must live if we are to grow out of this experience stronger, more socially just, gender equal, more resilient, more cooperative and with more peace.

And we need to act on what we know to be true. There are no solutions unless women are part of them, as decision makers and as equal beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, there are few countries where the COVID-19 response addresses threats to gender equality across three key dimensions: the surge in violence against women and girls, the unprecedented increase in unpaid care work, and the economic insecurity caused by the large-scale loss of jobs, incomes and livelihoods. A UN Women/UNDP Global Tracker has captured a trend which seems to hold true in East and Southern Africa region:

  • Only 25 countries have a holistic response, with measures that span across violence against women, women’s economic security and unpaid care.
  • Some 71 per cent of all gender-sensitive measures (704 measures across 135 countries) focus on preventing and/or responding to violence against women and girls.
  • Meanwhile, the global social protection and jobs response has been largely gender-blind: few directly address women’s economic security or unpaid care.

UN Women everywhere is committed to amplifying the voices of women and girls in all their diversities; we continue to support their organizing; and working with governments to ensure that national-level planning and programming takes into account gendered realities of the lives of women, men, boys and girls.

Join us in our work.