COVID19 Gendered Gaps and Levers: The role and opportunities for women

By Diana Ninsiima ~ Country Director DOT Tanzania on 18 Apr 2020Gender Mainstreaming


Globally, COVID-19 presents opportunities to restructure our approaches and rethink the face of our leadership. While 70% of the world's healthcare staff are made up of women, only 25% of global leaders are female. Without women in these positions, this would affect funding priorities and women's issues could fail to be addressed throughout the crisis, or rather at the required scale. This is a wakeup call to advocate for systemic change – to change the face of global leadership before the next disaster strikes. Prioritizing women’s voices in the response (at high level and community levels) will set us up for a more equitable, healthier future while saving lives. A call to focus on programmes that build women’s leadership, inclusion, and economic resilience for this and future shocks, for a gender equal future.


The webinar, themed “Women’s Leadership under COVID-19” was a creative roundtable led by women, to seed the impact the pandemic is having on women, and to explore both mid term and long term solutions. Putting a spotlight on the different gendered approaches happening globally, and how the few women who are at the forefront of the fight are disproportionately doing a great job at handling the pandemic.


       Faraja Nyalandu: Shule Direct | Structuring education

What was really profound for us was women coming up with requests on how best they can support their children during this time of massive school closures. That led us to start a parents digital corner to mobilise resources. Women are the caretakers and we wanted to see how to support them to be able to provide the needed resources. We now see the role of a woman changing; as a parent, as a caretaker, to being a facilitator of learning, well-being and children’s development at home. This requires a different set of skills, behaviours, and values, which has been a learning shift for all of us. As a mother of 2 (ages 10 &11) I have found myself reflecting how best to structure activities at home, beyond our typical classroom resources and setting, leveraging what we have in our homes. We need to leverage other mediums like radios and televisions and embrace non structured activities and relationship building that shape values, cognitive skills, and character development of children.


I am also keen on women in the informal sector, their productivity and livelihoods. At Shule Direct, we ran a startup incubator for young women entrepreneurs. It has been hard for them to navigate especially, since their cash flow depends on individual day to day processes. How we conduct business now and post COVID will depend on good processes and systems that can support productivity. We all have a chance to work on sharing knowledge and information with women. Let’s support them to think differently about processes and procedures and rethink the markets.

       Rabia Nuzrat: Palladium | Social protection programs

With quarantine, and no domestic help, women have to surrender to the dual job of not only doing their professional roles, but also managing all the responsibilities at home especially with how the social structures are set up. There’s also a big concern globally about how this will lead to domestic abuse and violence. Social distancing is a privilege in some communities and quite impractical for others. It's time to look at social insurance programs and social protection mechanisms. We need to design channels for sharing information with the hard to reach women, leveraging existing community avenues and structure, ensuring that women are identified, mobilised, and registered to receive the help they need.


 There’s a great example of a social protection program in Pakistan - a multi sectoral response that has very extensive engendered data. When aid is being given out, this mechanism makes sure all the vulnerable communities and women will benefit. The UK has also channeled the domestic abuse line, to respond to vulnerable people being affected by lockdown. There is also an opportunity to start feeding into ideas of how the economic setup will look like and how women can be more inclusive in these solutions. We need to up-skill them to be part of the opportunities that will come.


       Christine Musisi: UNDP | Global Impact assessment

Any crisis, especially a health related one, affects women disproportionately, more than men. This is mainly because of our role as women which combines the reproductive role, productive role, community role, and leadership role. We have immense roles, immense challenges and immense interests. Be they practical interests or strategic. Any form of lockdown impacts the economy critically. UNDP is leading a UN-wide social economic impact assessment and we are also joined by several development partners such as ESRF, and guided by the government to explore solutions for early recovery. We are aware that jobs are silently disappearing, and are quite concerned about how this will affect the levels of poverty especially on women. Globally, 57% of temporary workers are women, and they carry the biggest burden of unpaid care. Violence has risen 25% globally and intimate partner violence is the culprit because of the isolation and close relations. Intimate partner violence alone impacts the GDP by 3%, but most critically, the human rights of women, which impacts their productivity and ability to participate in the economy. We need to take this into account to advocate for it to be taken more seriously.


We have women taking leadership in the COVID response in Tanzania, Minister of Health, Permanent Secretary for the Prime Minister’s office who is also leading the committee of permanent secretaries ensuring a multi-sectoral response which is much needed. In the UN, we have representatives of World Health Organisations, UNICEF, UNFPA and UNDP, all women working together. The majority of leaders in the innovation are also women. A crisis is a time where the ingenuity, wisdom, the hands and leadership of women is most needed. Post COVID, things will never be the same, we should not waste this crisis. We need to harness the immense potential and gifting of women and young people to find solutions to these critical problems. It is important to create a facility that will promote solutions that do not leave anyone behind and at scale. We need to scale up market systems in rural areas, connect as women through digital platforms, support small micro businesses to adopt to Ecommerce and  bring the challenges of the informal sector forward, where most of the women are supporting.

       Naomi Mwasambili: Chanua | Western approaches

This is the opportunity for it not to be business as usual. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we know that the societies that we are living in, marginalized are women. Women are not leading, they are at the bottom. Trying to replicate some of the systems that we are currently working within would be travesty. For example in the education system, one of the responses has been trying to mimic education in school at home. That will not work because parents are not necessarily educators in the way teachers are. This has caused a lot of problems and friction, including mental health related issues for parents. If you are in a space of a crisis, anxious, or worried, that's not the best time to learn. This is the time to allow children to play, innovate, and create learning approaches for themselves. It is not about having to structure learning as if it’s a school environment. Women have confusing advice and messages about being on lock down, and are quite vulnerable, we need community based safe spaces for women to go. It is important that even with the top down approaches that we have and their messages, we are building and supporting the capacity at community and village levels to ensure that the ecosystems people are living in are able to support them. We need to focus on bringing the human approaches rather than mimicking male led solutions that we see and live in at the moment.  We need to think about the majority of women in the informal cash economy and how they can form and be part of the new solutions post COVID. Building training and capacity of women to lead in the new and emerging industries.


Take away: Even though COVID is a global epidemic, it’s impacting the west in a lot of ways. This is an opportunity to do things differently, we don’t have to save the same modeled economy and mimic male driven agendas in the work that we do. There’s an opportunity for women to come together, and truly collaborate, to support ourselves, children and young people. Let’s find a common platform where we can share this information with each other, we can challenge each other and learn together. In all sectors, it requires women to be able to come up with creative ideas and be supported to develop, implement and scale them.


       Marjolijn Wilmink: HDIF | Gendering Innovation

As leaders in innovation, we are looking at the innovation space and infrastructures that can be useful and relevant in these times through mobilized efforts. Repurposing for COVID and engendering all approaches. Women should be the co-designers of any solution in all aspects. On one hand we can be innovative in the technology and digital groceries we make, but also leverage the huge amounts of grass root networks to come up with solutions.


By Diana Ninsiima ~ Country Director DOT Tanzania