‘COVID-19 Could Set the Fight for Equality Back’, Experts Warn QF’s Doha Debates
Governments have been urged not to let the process of rebuilding after COVID-19 divert them from realizing the goals of a global blueprint designed to create a more equal and sustainable world, in the final edition of Doha Debates’ #DearWorldLive series.
Since the pandemic began, the Qatar Foundation production has staged a weekly show that invites thought-leaders and experts to assess how it is shaping – and will continue to affect – different aspects of our lives and societies, with its concluding episode focusing on gender equality.
The discussion saw Dr. Alaa Murabit – one of 17 Global Sustainable Development Goal Advocates appointed by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General – warn that if nations set their post-pandemic sights purely on “health security”, they risk taking their eye off the ball in meeting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by UN member states in 2015.
“The 2030 Agenda didn’t really look at something at the level of this pandemic, and it is important to recognize that this was a blind spot,” said Dr. Murabit, who is also a UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth, as well as a practicing medical doctor.
“Such a global standstill as we’re now experiencing was not anticipated, and unfortunately we are now seeing many governments acting in a reactive way. Instead of focusing on the 2030 Agenda and an ecosystem of sustainability – reducing poverty, gender inequality, and climate change – we are going to see a huge focus on health security.
“It’s critical for all of us to push our governments to recognize that you cannot focus on health security in a silo. Health security is dependent on a healthcare workforce, on social norms and a social contract, and people holding themselves accountable as a community. We must continue to see the Sustainable Development Goals as a lighthouse, and keep working toward meeting them.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic-enforced global lockdown, reports of domestic violence against women have spiraled, but Dr. Marabit said: “The pandemic only exacerbates whatever already exists within a country – we have just seen that so many countries were so unprepared for this crisis, they didn’t really look at the long-term impact on social justice and gender issues.
“In the middle of a crisis like this, you can’t fix something that is decades old and rooted in the foundations of a society. Violence against a women was a pandemic before COVID-19 was a pandemic, but because of the way the narrative has been shaped, people think domestic violence is only due to isolation and physical distancing, and that’s just not correct.
“The pandemic isn’t just a health crisis and a question of getting more doctors and nurses and personal protective equipment. It took advantage of a system that is very clearly unequal, and we need to be looking at the apparatus that allows this ecosystem of inequality. If we are talking about women’s rights, we also need to be talking about the rights of black people. If we are talking about keeping girls in education, we need to be looking at it not only in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Mexico, but globally.”
Ziauddin Yousafzai, who also participated in the episode, co-founded the Malala Fund with his daughter, whom the fund is named after and who became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work in advocating for girls’ education. In a new report, the fund concluded that as many as 10 million secondary school-age girls will not come back to education after the pandemic.
“I fear that the pandemic will set gender equality back,” he said. “It has enhanced domestic violence against women, and millions of girls who are currently out of school are likely not to be returning.
“The most powerful equalizer we have is education. Every girl should have the right to choose her future, and education makes that possible. But countries whose policies are patriarchal invest more in education for boys than for girls. In some countries, inequality and discrimination is structural, institutional, and even constitutional, but it is not limited to patriarchal societies – we see sexism, chauvinism, and misogyny in all societies.
“This needs a paradigm shift. When we talk about returning to normal, we should not long for an old and outdated way of life, but fight for a new normal based on equality, justice, and opportunities for all, where there is no discrimination based on gender, race, color, or faith. COVID-19 is like a harsh teacher; if we learn from it, we will move forward, and if we don’t, we will stay where we are.”
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