International Women’s Day: COVID-19 Exacerbates Gender Discrimination

Protests, flowers, dancing and marching. The list may go on with various images reminding one of symbols related to the worldwide marking of the 8th of March, International Women’s Day (IWD). 

Acknowledging that gender equality is a key component of a democratic and free society, Youth Time observes this day by speaking to Tamar Dekanosidze, Eurasia Consultant at Equality Now, an international human rights organisation using the law to protect and promote the rights of women around the world since 1992. 

It tackles the most difficult issues, challenge ingrained cultural assumptions and call out inequality wherever they see it. 

Among other things in this exclusive interview, Dekanosidze shares a few facts that COVID-19 just worsens the existing gender stereotypes and discrimination against women. 

 

Ending Gender Discrimination as Urgent as it’s Ever Been

Initially, she emphasises that IWD is such an important day of the year for the women’s rights community. 

“While those of us in this space live and breathe the struggle for gender equality, it can be difficult to have the rest of the world-including governments pay attention to the issues that impact women, girls and gender minorities.”

Hence, she believes that “IWD provides a critical space for activists to share their work with an international audience that is focused – at least for a day – on the progress that has been made in advancing women’s rights as well as work that still needs to be done.

“While this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations look a little different, the message that we need to end gender discrimination is as urgent as it’s ever been.” 

Dekanosidze recalls that the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially devastating for women and girls and the global response to the pandemic must centre their experiences. 

“On International Women’s Day 2021 we call on governments to commit to integrating a gendered lens into their work.”

 

COVID-19 as a Deeply Gendered Crisis 

As Equality Now believes in creating a just world between women and men, she elaborates on how is this going so far and also to what extent the current pandemic affected their cause.

According to her over the past decade the gender justice movement has made amazing strides. 

“The rate of both child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) had been steadily dropping around the world, reproductive rights – including access to legal abortion-have expanded on nearly every continent, and the public discourse around sexual violence has shifted to a more survivor-centred approach.”

However, she brings into discussion that 2020 was set to be a historic year for women’s rights.

“This with the Generation Equality forums planned for Paris and Mexico, the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, and the G7 summit in the United States with gender equality at the top of the agenda. But of course, like everything else in 2020, things didn’t go as planned.” 

On another note, unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women and girls. 

“From a dramatic rise in sex trafficking in Malawi to spiralling rates of sexual violence in India, from subversive restrictions on access to abortion in the United States to an increase in teen pregnancy in Kenya, the coronavirus pandemic has been a deeply gendered crisis.”

While these trends are shocking, she goes on, it is important to remember that the coronavirus did not create these harmful practices, it simply exacerbated them. 

“Thus, while we have had to adapt our work to address the new reality that COVID-19 has ushered in, we are still focused on eradicating systemic legal barriers that prevent women and girls from participating fully and equally in society.”

Equality Now
Equality Now: The company hoping International Women’s Day can be a driving force to change

 

Youth as Leader in Social Changes 

For young readers of Youth Time, she shares some initiatives and/or advice about how youth are contributing and can contribute to achieving gender equality.

“Young people are leading the way on so many important social justice issues, and gender equality is no exception. 

“Girls, adolescents and young adults are especially vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation, but they are also some of the most powerful and strong voices demanding change.” 

“From survivors of child marriage, FGM and sexual violence to LGBTQ teen activists, young people are sharing their lived experience of discrimination and the impact that legal inequality has had on their lives. 

“It is the job of older feminists and established organisations to not just listen and learn from these perspectives but also to help amplify their message.”

Dekanosidze is excited to see activists like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg demanding to be heard by institutions that are typically inaccessible to anyone without the most elite connections. 

“This attitude is both refreshing and revolutionary in the best ways. I feel encouraged when I see younger generations forge ahead into new spaces and tackle issues that are most relevant to them. 

“I think the women’s rights movement has a lot to learn from that tenacity!”

 

Equality Now Advocacy 

Broadly speaking, Equality Now work falls into four main categories:

       Achieving Legal Equality

       Ending Sexual Violence

       Ending Harmful Practices

       Ending Sex Trafficking

“We have active campaigns in each category that target a specific problem in a specific region. 

“For instance, the campaigns that I work on in Eurasia and Georgia focus on sexual violence and to some degree, incorporate other issues such as child marriage and prostitution.”

Each campaign is led by a communications and programs expert, as they partner with local and regional activists and organisations that are also working on these issues.

Dekanosidze explains that they rely on the expertise of partners who are on the ground, working with impacted populations to inform their strategy and ensure that their involvement supports existing efforts. 

“From our side, we bring in an international perspective and decades of experience of advocating before international rights bodies.

“We employ a variety of advocacy and communications strategies to achieve our goals. 

Namely, we engage with the media to draw public awareness to our issues; communicate with supporters and partners via social media, including Instagram and Facebook live and Twitter chats; host webinars and, in non-COVID times, public events; participate in panels hosted by partners and other ally organisations; update our website and blog to reflect our current priorities and accomplishments.” 


For more reasons about why we should all support women’s rights, consider reading this

Overcoming Gender Stereotypes: Women in Tech

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