Women’s voices have been largely missing from the global COVID-19 responses, says W20 sherpa Salma al-Rashid
The Women 20 (W20) is an official engagement group of the G20, and ensures gender considerations are mainstreamed into G20 discussions. This year’s W20 Sherpa, Salma al-Rashid stressed the need for member states to foster gender equality as they reset their economies.
Who are the members of W20?
The W20 comprises representatives from across the member states — 19 countries and the European Union. We are independent of governments, and our members represent the voices of the people and are from entrepreneur leadership, academics, professors, civil society leaders.
Our main task is to put forth policy recommendations that ensure further advancing of women’s economic empowerment and to ensure gender considerations are at the forefront of G20 discussions.
Your Open Letter requests Member States to follow the recommendations included in your Communique. What are these recommendations?
We shared our Communique last month. It contains two sets of recommendations. We are calling on the G20 leaders to take immediate action to ensure economic recovery is based on the principle of inclusiveness. We are also pushing for legal and social reform as well as equitable labour and financial inclusion and G20 accountability. These are recommendations to ensure that G20 is able to achieve SDGs and sustainable balanced growth that provides for everyone.
What was the process involved in drafting the Communique?
The process we follow for drafting our communique is the same as that followed by the G20, which includes consensus building and not just paying attention to the voice of the majority. Each one of us has to agree on what our priorities are. The realities of women across different countries are different, but they are also the same. We worry about flexible working hours, access to healthcare, infrastructure. But our starting points may be different. So, we need to bring everyone together to prepare our recommendations.
A study points out that most committees formed by different countries to devise an action plan to curb the spread of COVID-19 were male dominated. How do you think this has affected women’s lives around the world and in Saudi Arabia?
This is a concern for the W20, and we call it the “missing voices”. Women’s voices have been largely missing in the response teams, committees, and the initial support package even though this is the first war that is being fought with women at the frontline. We have called upon the G20 in its Extraordinary Summit in March to ensure inclusive decision making. Whether it is reproductive health or gender-based violence, we need to ensure a gendered approach to this pandemic.
COVID-19 did not show us anything we didn’t know. But it laid them bare. This is an opportunity to reset and build back better. Before the pandemic, there were a 740 million women in the informal sector; women constitute 70% of social and health sector, and at the same time one of the sectors which had high promise of closing the gender gap i.e. the tourism sector, was hit the hardest. When the pandemic came it hit in the toughest places.
Impact on women of Saudi Arabia and how has your organisation, Alnahda, intervened?
Alnahda is hosting the W20 in Saudi Arabia. So, W20 gave us an opportunity locally, in Saudi Arabia, to convene a series of national dialogues. These national dialogues were the first of its kind to really have a participatory approach to policymaking. We had presentations that were attended by over 700 people, we had over 100 experts come together representing different sectors of the society . Academics, nonprofits, civil society, private sector, and government come together to have discussions around the W20.
My colleagues at Anhad’s research centre have been doing some research and analysis to understand how women from low socio-economic backgrounds were affected. These were mostly female-led households — there is more stress at home — and what you say about India (about a surge in domestic violence and rise in child marriages) is also true for rest of the world and for Saudi Arabia.
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