As 2020 draws to a close, and we reflect on the world-changing events of the year, there’s never been a better time to come together and reshape a fairer future for everyone.
As a part of ActionAid’s first Giving Day on 1 December, we hosted Rise and Reset: Women will Rebuild the World – a panel discussion to reflect on how local women’s leadership has kept communities safe throughout the multiple crises of 2020 and explore how women can build back better for a fairer future. “Women are playing a pivotal role in leading during crisis,” said Natasha Stott Despoja AO, ARISE Leadership Circle member and newly elected member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
In her opening message, Natasha spoke to the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on women and girls everywhere but particularly those who are already marginalised or living in low-income countries.
The panel featured three inspirational women leaders from around the world: Farah Kabir (ActionAid Bangladesh), Julie Reilly (Australians Investing in Women) and Neha Madhok (Democracy in Colour). Crises exacerbate existing gender inequalities putting women at greater risk. During COVID-19, they have been more likely to lose their jobs, experience domestic violence and bear the brunt of unpaid caring responsibilities. Women also make up two-thirds of the health care sector globally – putting them directly on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“Women are impacted in a way that has put many on alert about whether gender rights are going to be set back,” said Julie Reilly, CEO of Australians Investing in Women. “Women start from behind, and so any kind of disaster impacts women disproportionately. They are often earning less or working in the informal industry while also juggling extra social responsibilities.”.
Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh, brought an international perspective explaining the insecure situation women are facing in the world’s largest refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar.
“We had a form of lockdown from March. We conducted a study and found that women were affected in four key areas; livelihoods, decreasing access to public services, they had to adjust their expenses with the resources they had available and there was an increase in the burden of unpaid care,” Farah explained.
On top of economic instability, a global health crisis and extreme climate events; women, globally are experiencing surging levels of violence as mandated lockdowns trap them at home with their abusers and reduce access to protection services.
“One thing we know we know from this global pandemic is women in Australia, in our region and across the world have experienced rising levels of violence. And the severity of this violence has increased,” said Natasha.
Farah added to this, saying that “gender-based violence has increased in many, many homes and forms. Some say it’s the uncertainty and the loss of incomes or confined to their homes. It has sadly also increased the prevalence of child marriage.”
Looking at the bigger picture Neha stated that “COVID-19 has completely set fire to everything that was already broken with our system. We’re, literally, all in this together.”
While our guests acknowledged 2020 has been challenging for women around the world, they expressed hope and optimism when speaking about the future. They explored a future where women are leading the recovery and building a world that puts people and planet first.
“The women in Cox’s Bazar said no we’re not going to sit back and cry over it, we’re going to come and make facemasks. Every morning there’s one more story and I could take the whole day to tell you how inspiring these women are,” said Farah.
“This crisis does bring opportunities,” Natasha added. “Our global response could change and reshape and reset the world... Together we can invest in women to rise up, rebuild and reshape the world in 2021.”
If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recording of ‘Rise and reset’ webinar below: