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Home / Analysis / Covid-19: An opportunity to create a more equal world | Opinion

Covid-19: An opportunity to create a more equal world | Opinion

Governments, businesses and civil society must awaken Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 based seven interrelated chakras or energy centres to transform the post- pandemic world into a gender equal one.

analysis Updated: Aug 09, 2020 06:29 IST
Lakshmi Puri
Lakshmi Puri
Gender equality is a proven public good and India’s gender equality dividend alone could be close to a trillion dollars by 2025.
Gender equality is a proven public good and India’s gender equality dividend alone could be close to a trillion dollars by 2025.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The health and socio-economic crisis triggered by Covid-19 has hit women and girls differentially and disproportionately. There is increased feminisation of poverty, domestic work and care burden and 33% rise in domestic violence. Marginalised women can’t access health care, family planning and education and millions have lost jobs and income.

The calamity also presents an unmissable opportunity to tear down all structural barriers to gender equality. We can usher in the New Normal of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) that feminists have dreamt of, along with that of the post-pandemic future. Governments, businesses and civil society must awaken Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 based seven interrelated chakras or energy centres to transform the post- pandemic world into a gender equal one.

The first chakra is to forge gender-responsive disaster management, humanitarian response strategies and institutions. They must incorporate women’s needs and perspectives and their participation and leadership in all aspects. They must finance, target and customise relief and mitigation measures and make their empowerment vital to recovery and reconstruction.

The second chakra is addressing what the secretary general of the United Nations termed the “pandemic of inequality around the world” from an intersectional feminist prism. Women’s socio-economic identities--race, religion, caste, age, class, multidimensional poverty, rural/urban and migrant status intersect, compounding gender discrimination.

Addressing these holistically will have a force multiplier effect on human rights. A universal social protection revolution based on a new social contract is key. The objective must be to leave no one — no woman or girl behind, as per sarvodaya /antodaya and SDGs.

The third awakens women’s economic empowerment for and through a gender-responsive national economic renaissance. This includes rebuilding infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, services and local, national and global supply chains and climate-resilient, green production and consumption through Atmanirbhar Bharat.

These must integrate, foster, value and even privilege women’s skills, labour, enterprise and leadership in all sectors. Targeted and mainstreamed measures, incentives and transformative investments by the government and private sector are required.

The fourth chakra must enable technological empowerment of women and girls to benefit from and contribute to an equitable new normal of an accelerated fourth industrial revolution and digitised world. Governance, infrastructure and investment must close digital and technology gender gaps. Women must be enabled to adapt to and benefit from frontier technologies from 5G and information and communications technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, to digital work, learning, payments, health and commerce.

The fifth must ensure universal access to affordable, accessible and quality health care for all women and girls-- SDG 4. A revamped and expanded health, medical and pharmaceutical infrastructure and services with enhanced three to five percentage of the Gross Domestic Product investment must be powered by women’s agency and employment. It must comprehensively serve women and girls health care and health security needs especially sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The sixth is 21st century gender-responsive education systems that must enable women and girls to achieve SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable, quality education for all. The New Education Policy (NEP) must close the persisting literacy, numeracy, primary, secondary, tertiary, higher education and skills-related gender gaps.

Online learning has to complement in class learning in terms of accessibility and affordability of quality education to millions of disadvantaged women and girls. They can leapfrog into acquiring 21st century capabilities if the NEP fosters their multi-sectoral knowledge, vocational skills, STEM talent and employability.

The seventh chakra of transformation is normative, cultural, and behavioural change at individual, societal, national and global levels. SDG 5 must be the template for overhauling and implementing post-pandemic policies and laws and for embracing new social and cultural norms based on progressive global women’s human rights norms.

Gender equality is a proven public good and India’s gender equality dividend alone could add a trillion dollars to GDP by 2025.The case for invoking the Rig Vedic union of Prakriti and Purusha — Nature, Power and Will — for Shristii or Creation of a gender equal universe has never been more compelling.

Lakshmi Puri is a former assistant secretary-general, United Nations, former deputy executive director of UN Women and former acting deputy secretary-general of UNCTAD
The views expressed are personal
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