Op-ed: End the disconnect

End the disconnect - graphic

We live in a world with a startling disconnect between how women and girls are impacted by current multiple crises, and their involvement in finding and implementing solutions. It’s time to recognize this, refocus, and urgently coordinate our efforts to reverse it. I therefore urge G7 leaders to take the lead in fostering women’s equal rights, including women’s autonomous decision-making over their bodies and health, and support the achievement of their full political, social, and economic participation.

Global conflicts, the climate and environment crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are stark reminders of the interconnectedness of the global challenges we face and their power to cross-multiply threats and impact. They have taken their highest toll on women and girls, especially affecting those who are already being left furthest behind. We see this pattern play out in crises across the globe. The horrifying war in Ukraine and its cascading effects on security, livelihoods, and health, is the latest to join the list.

In Afghanistan, with 23 million people identified as acutely food insecure, we see a humanitarian catastrophe marked by increasing gender-specific restrictions that directly impact the ability of women and girls to realize their rights and contribute to their country. Yet, we know that women’s inclusion yields enormous dividends for both peace and prosperity.

I would highlight three priority aspects for G7 countries to address—resilience against crises, the economy, including care, and violence against women and girls. Together, these interlocked and unresolved aspects underpin the structural barriers that block progress for sustainable development.

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how crises dramatically increase women’s and girls’ unpaid care and domestic work and the impact this has on their ability to engage in paid work. Over 100 million women between the ages of 25 to 54, with small children at home, are out of the workforce globally. Yet still not enough of the right steps are being taken to address the problem. Out of more than 3000 social and economic measures taken by governments in response to the economic and social fallout of the pandemic, only 13 per cent target women’s economic security and only 7 per cent address rising unpaid care demands. It is vital to invest in expanded gender-responsive public services, universal social protection, and health and care systems.

The same limitations apply to measures being taken to address violence against women and girls, already the most pervasive of human rights abuses. Globally, we have seen the current crises exacerbate gender-based violence, all too often with impunity for the perpetrators and inadequate services for survivors. Climate change is a serious aggravator of all types of violence against women and girls, especially in the absence of social protection schemes and where there is food insecurity, as they attempt to get food for family members and themselves. Since the start of the pandemic, 45 per cent of women surveyed reported that they, or someone they knew, had experienced violence in one form or other. I urge G7 leaders to strengthen their response and increase accountability, to implement measures to prevent violence occurring in the first place, and expand service delivery, including essential services for women and girls experiencing all kinds of violence.

Effective responses to these identified gaps require significant political commitment as well as increased public and private financing. Delivering on long-standing commitments, such as vaccine supply and climate finance to developing countries is now more critical than ever. Financing is especially needed to support women’s organizations, enterprises and cooperatives, whose complementary roles in times of crises—and outside them—are invaluable. Increasing political will also means increasing women’s representation in government, using quotas and special measures to accelerate progress. Worldwide, women still only hold one in four parliamentary seats. We are missing critical openings to bring those with the most relevant, lived knowledge into the decision-making space. When we exclude the expertise and voices of women themselves from responses, there is an increasingly damaging opportunity cost to us all.

As Generation Equality recognized, we need now, collectively, to establish a new, feminist way of solving these issues and responding to crises, with action in partnership for the long term. At the heart of that approach is the recognition of what has been missing to date – the full, equal, and meaningful representation of women in all their diversity at all levels in the decision-making, leadership, and implementation of solutions, in full respect of their rights. I call on G7 leaders at the Elmau Summit to resolve to take this simple, deeply significant step, and reach for gender equality together – for the benefit of all.

Article and graphic reprinted with permission from “G7 Germany: The 2022 Elmau Summit”, pp. 108–109.