Is Gender Equality Still Possible?


Is Gender Equality Still Possible?



Decades of progress toward gender equality have been reversed by the pandemic, with the most vulnerable populations—such as displaced women and girls—being struck the hardest. While young women and girls continue to struggle for their rights, they are unable to do it on their own due to the strong forces that are fighting against them.

Alaa Salah, a Sudanese activist, rose to fame after singing to her fellow demonstrators while perched atop a moving vehicle in Dakar. Vanessa Nakate, a climate justice activist from Uganda, went from protesting by herself at the entrance of her nation's parliament to pressing world leaders for action at the UN. Oumou, a Senegalese activist, has used technology to open up previously taboo topics like sexuality, personal health, contraception, and period poverty.

These young women are not alone in their quest for better lives for themselves, their communities, and the entire planet. Numerous young women and girls from Africa and other parts of the world are working to alter the power structures that support injustice and restrict the exercise of fundamental rights by underprivileged populations. To spark dramatic change, they are giving speeches, founding NGOs and community initiatives, and marching. This is great news for everyone because numerous studies have proven that empowering women and girls benefits entire communities.

However, strenuous progress toward gender equality is now in danger. Years of gains in reducing poverty have been undone by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has also caused a dramatic rise in inequality with disproportionate effects on girls and women.

According to studies, families are more inclined to marry off their young daughters when times are tough economically, denying girls the freedom to decide who they want to spend the rest of their life with and when and how many children they want to have. According to UNICEF, COVID-19 will put ten million girls at risk of being married off as children worldwide during the following ten years. Additionally, a trend that has been confirmed during the epidemic is that girls and women are more likely to experience sexual and gender-based violence during times of crisis.

Lockdowns, restrictions on movement, and the redirection of funding to pandemic-related programmes made matters worse by jeopardising access to sexual- and reproductive-health services, ranging from information on menstruation and fertility to contraception, as noted by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Tlaleng Mofokeng. Many people lost access to specialised services for victims of gender-based abuse.

All of this has led to a sharp increase in unintended and early pregnancies and significantly decreased the likelihood that girls will resume their studies once the schools reopen. After COVID-19, more than 11 million girls might never go back to school, according to UNICEF.

Simply put, decades of progress toward gender equality have been reversed by the pandemic, with the most vulnerable populations, such as displaced women and girls, suffering the most. To be sure, young women and girls are persevering despite such significant obstacles. However, they are unable to defeat the strong forces pitted against them on their own.

Men's meaningful participation is essential in this. Initiatives in Senegal like the club’s des pères (father's clubs) or écoles de maris (husband schools) can significantly alter the situation. The objective is to promote healthy (rather than toxic) masculinity, encourage men to shoulder more of the responsibility of unpaid caregiving, and advance maternal and child health.

Engagement with local, national, and international leaders in the fields of health, religion, and women's rights is also crucial. Elevating the platforms of older women leaders and activists, like "super grandma" Aminata and midwife Madame Badji, might improve younger women's ambition and impact given the established ability of female role models to inspire younger generations.

Similarly, raising the voices of young leaders can energise and motivate their fellow students. When Ubah Ali, a Somaliland activist, observed other girls in leadership roles, she became convinced that she could also lead, "raise her voice," and "be an agent of change." She is currently fighting to end female genital mutilation in all of Somaliland and supporting those who have been affected by the practice.

Protecting and upholding their rights, particularly their sexual and reproductive rights, may, however, do more to ensure that young women and girls may realise their potential as agents of change. Although everyone has a part to play, governments are the ones who should be doing this in the first place.

The epidemic is only the start. The stakes are as high as the obstacles to progress on gender equality, which are expected to disproportionately harm women and girls due to climate change and increased food insecurity. Recognizing the difficulties girls and women face and highlighting the difficult and crucial work they are doing are the first steps towards addressing them.

It would be better for everyone if girls and young women everywhere had equal power. Therefore, everyone has a stake in seeing that they succeed.

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