‘Choose to Challenge’

As the International Women’s day comes again in 2021, there is much to feel happy about. Parts of the world being governed by women are increasing steadily. Estonia is the latest country to join this club, with both the President and Prime Minister being women. The US elected its first ever female vice president, and Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman to head the WTO. Rashmi Samant, became the first female president of the Oxford University Students Union. The Time magazine’s first ever ‘Kid of the year’ in 2020 was a young girl Geetanjali Rao. Flight Lieutenant Swathi Rathore led the flypast in the Republic Day this year.

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Success stories of women are many and growing in every field. Worldwide, women are making their presence felt in science, media, leadership and even protests. There is much to cheer about as we observe another International Women’s day, which recognizes women for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. The theme for 2021 is “choose to challenge”

Along with celebrations it is also a day for stock taking. While cheering and celebrating the strides made, we must also acknowledge the roadblocks and setbacks that have impacted women.

Globally, the COVID19 pandemic has had a harsh impact on women. Women are the primary care givers at home and in communities. Apart from risking infection, women have lost livelihoods and jobs in a much larger number than men. As per reports the job loss rate has been 1.8 times higher than men. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. Due to the pandemic, the time women spend in family responsibilities has increased manifold, probably leading to more dramatic job loss than explained by labor-market dynamics alone.

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Unpaid work is and increasingly became the burden of women and girls during the pandemic. As per an Oxfam report for 2020, ‘women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each day’. They contributed nearly $10.8 trillion to the global economy — more than three times the size of the tech economy.

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The other disastrous impact for women during the pandemic has been the dramatic increase in domestic violence. This intensification of domestic violence has been called the ‘shadow pandemic’ by the UN. It is estimated that 243 million women and girls suffered domestic violence since the pandemic began. Work from home, stay at home and lockdown situations cooped women in with violent partners and help and resources too became difficult to access.

As work and life moved online in 2020, cyber crime too saw a rising graph. In this arena also women were primary targets, as the cyber world took on virulent forms of attack.

As school education moved online, the gender digital divide ensured that many girls dropped out of school. As per UNICEF 20% of girls in East Asia and the Pacific, totaling nearly 40 million, have not been able to access distance learning during COVID-19 and 69 percent of girls reported studying and learning less than usual.

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The year gone by has seen the gradual ascent of women in many fields, but the shadow of the pandemic looms large on the gains made in the past in the arena of gender equality. The policy prescriptions to reduce gender disparity are well known, after the pandemic they need to be reworked to address the challenges.

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The world is talking about a reset in the wake of the pandemic. The reset also needs to address women. If the world ‘chooses to challenge’ the gender gaps, the post COVID world could provide equal opportunity, access and representation to women in economy and society. For half the world’s population that is not an unreasonable demand.

First published in english on https://sadhnashanker.medium.com/choose-to-challenge-30dd01a34d6d

Published in Hindi in the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper on 9-3-2021

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