Sustainable Development Goals
With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the glaring inequalities in our societies have come to the fore. The implications of inequality can be seen in all spheres including access to healthcare, jobs and employment, wage parity, basic services, water and sanitation, quality and holistic education amongst a few. The most visibly deprived are the homeless, migrants, SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity), daily wage workers, sex workers, indigenous population, single women, persons with disabilities and refugees amongst others.
This situation has also laid bare open the unpreparedness of most countries including the developed ones to deal with it. It has displayed fundamental weakness in our basic structures that has exposed prevailing poverty, fragile health systems, lack of holistic education systems, failing social protection systems, etc.
In any crisis, especially in critical times like these, strength and significance of the governing structure of a nation-state is put to test. It also provides them an opportunity to strengthen the governance structure and make it more equitable, sustainable and inclusive for all. Thus, a critical task that lies ahead of Governments now is to walk the extra mile and steer forward the governance structure; where the social and economic policies can rebuild the already fragile and disintegrating social protection systems of countries and cater to populations that are most affected. Various models of ‘good governance’ are being put to test now to meet the extremely difficult choices that can contain the spread of virus as well as move towards the goal of ‘SDGs’ – leaving no one behind’.
Why is it important to NOT leave women behind in the prevailing scenario?
According to the United Nations, ‘the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing and exploiting vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems’. While women have been making crucial contributions as frontline health workers, nurses, sanitation workers, online teachers, social workers, administrators, police personnel, media personnel, care providers, they are also one amongst the hardest hit. Some of the ways in which the situation has affected women and girls include –
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a “ceasefire” to address the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” On 6 April 2020.
The mitigation strategies need to be defined in a manner wherein, they not only look at the health aspects but, also the economic aspects and thereby, help in building women’s resilience. Or else, we stand at the risk of going back by decades, as COVID-19 may possible reverse the gains made so far on realising gender and human rights of women and girls.
How can we rejig the Governance structure to make it more responsive to the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable especially women?
The pandemic has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of our governance structure and has moved nation-states beyond their routine calls to set up systems that protect the most vulnerable and marginalized socially, economically, and medically. It has also shown the unequal development of societies and prevailing inequality between and within countries that has largely impacted the vulnerable and marginalized.
Now, the way social, economic and political decisions are taken within the larger ambit of governance structure will define the ability of scores of individuals to survive in these unprecedented times. Governments are acting and at a considerable pace to take decisions and policies that will help tide the various concerns arising from the situation today. But, it is vital that the decisions and policies being taken also have a perspective that takes into consideration the needs and concerns of the vulnerable and marginalized – especially gender concerns. This will not only provide better outcomes for women and girls but, will provide better outcomes for everyone.
The governance system today has to move beyond state and structures and include people at the centre of action. To address the livelihood and economic needs of women, participation of women in decision making processes and leadership roles are imperative. It is recognised that women, especially rural women, are the key agents of transformative development; and they can provide an inclusive approach to the economic and social development narrative.
Some of the best practices undertaken by various countries to ensure gender responsive governance include –
The ways in which our governance structure can be made more responsive to the gender needs include –
Thus, gender responsive governance needs to be looked at different levels –
Keeping these factors into consideration, it is important to strengthen our governance and responsive systems to be gender equitable. If more women are involved in shaping the new social and economic order, we would be more responsive to everyone’s needs and become more resilient to absorb future shocks so that we can “Build Back Better”.
 Guterres António, 2020. United nations COVID- 19 Response. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/un-coronavirus-communications-team/pandemic-exposing-and-exploiting-inequalities-all-kinds-including
— By Pooja Singh, UN Women and Nizni Hans, former UN Women.
Nizni Hans :
Nizni Hans has worked with UN Women addressing issues of Ending Violence Against Women and Gender Responsive Governance / Budgeting in India. Presently, she is associated with Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Odisha working on gender issues and rights of indigenous communities.
Pooja Singh :
Pooja Singh is Consultant for Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting at the Directorate of Women and Child Development, Government of Madhya Pradesh in Bhopal placed by UN Women MCO for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Photo credits: Aaganwari Worker, Madhya Pradesh