By Annie Lennox
As world leaders convene for the G7 summit, to “help the world fight, and then build back better from coronavirus”, I would like them to consider this… Among the wreckage of lives and livelihoods that we are yet to fully quantify, a newly established fact has emerged that should make our blood run cold. In the wake of this dreadful pandemic, key rights of women and girls around the world have been rolled back by an entire generation.
Let this sink in: if you are a woman younger than 36 years old, then crucial progress achieved towards gender equality for you has been rolled back to a time before you were born.
Every time a humanitarian or economic disaster hits, women bear the heaviest burden. The Covid-19 crisis has seen this ugly truth played out on a worldwide scale, in rich and poor countries alike, with the most discriminated-against groups enduring the harshest impacts. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the lives of women and girls beyond its obvious impact as a health emergency. In poorer countries, girls have been disproportionately pulled out of school, many of whom will never return. Around the world, it has doubled women’s domestic workload, impacting their careers, or stopping their employment altogether. And perhaps most heinous of all, it has exacerbated the everlasting scourge of violence against women, particularly in their own homes.
Yet – as ever – women are on the frontlines in tackling this crisis, just as they are in every crisis. Despite the multiple threats facing them, women have been at the forefront of the response to Covid-19.
If world leaders are serious about gender equality, if there is any weight behind their words, the moment to prove it will be this weekend, at the G7 summit.
As founder of The Circle, an NGO fighting for safety and economic empowerment for women and girls, I am among a range of signatories to CARE International’s petition being handed into 10 Downing Street today by a determined coalition of women’s organisations under the banner #Wednesday4Women. We are calling on Boris Johnson, as he hosts the G7 Summit this weekend, to call on leaders to commit to vaccine equity and to take action on gender equality, by committing financial and political support to women.
Leaders have the opportunity to end violence against women and girls by increasing funding for prevention and response work led by women’s rights organisations and girl-led groups. This is an opportunity that must be seized.
This is the moment when world leaders can publicly recognise and value unpaid care work, including childcare, by providing significant public funding to reduce and redistribute it, easing the disproportionate and back-breaking work of women in the home.
This is the moment to invest in women and girls’ participation and leadership, through women and girls’ rights organisations. Organisations that long to deliver open, democratic societies, to make our world safer and fairer.
All eyes will be on the UK as the government seeks to give meaning to their much-vaunted epithet “Global Britain”. If this is to amount to anything but a hollow slogan, the government needs to demonstrate they are grounded in reality. Words will not make themselves true by virtue of repetition. As feminists, it is famously ‘deeds, not words’ we are interested in – and in the face of the biggest challenge our world has seen this century, this government’s deeds are letting millions of women down. The UK is the only G7 nation to cut aid to the world’s poorest countries in the middle of a pandemic when our help is needed more than ever. This is to our collective shame.
Now is the time to reverse the cruel and harmful UK aid cuts that will cost lives – disproportionately women and girls’ lives – as well as damaging our country’s global standing. We must restore funding to girls’ education, family planning and women and girls’ health, and projects working around the world to promote gender equality including in humanitarian crises.
As this virus, with no respect for borders, threatens to engulf us for years to come, it exposes a truth that global feminists like me have been shouting from the rooftops for decades: none of us is safe until all of us are safe. For women, that means safe from discrimination, and safe from violence, as well as safe from Covid-19.
World leaders, including the UK, must remember this at the G7. They cannot claim to “build back better” if they fail to prevent Covid-19 rolling back women’s rights by a generation. Women’s leadership and expertise – and their lives – must be valued, and their work must be funded. Anything less from world leaders this weekend will be an insult to us all. The Circle is part the Crack the Crises coalition.