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International Women’s Day: Choosing to challenge half the story on women and girls

By Dr Maureen Miruka | March 8th 2021
Dr Maureen Miruka, Country Director of CARE Kenya.

In the words of Malala Yousafzai, a female feminist activist and the youngest Nobel Prize from Pakistan, “I raise up my voice not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Inequitable gender norms and patriarchal systems continue to disadvantage women and girls across developing countries in Africa. These lead to a range of inequalities, from Gender Based Violence to the undervaluing of domestic and care work, to women’s exclusion from leadership positions. 

Women and girls typically suffer the most in emergencies, yet they are often at the frontline, providing humanitarian support to their communities.

“In times of crisis, very often I see women taking the lead, taking the helm,” said Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank and Former Director IMF.

There will be no changes if people do not become aware of their impact on the communities they live in.

In commemoration of the International Women’s Day a global day commemorating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women whose theme this year is “Choose To Challenge” it is imperative that we choose to challenge actors to stop telling half the story on women and girls.

A COVID-19 Gender Assessment Report was released in Kenya in December 2020. This was a collaborative effort between the government of Kenya, UN Women, CARE and other multinational agencies. The research analysed the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 and the associated containment measures on the livelihoods and circumstances of women and men.

The findings showed that while the devastating effects of COVID 19 have affected all humanity, women and girls were disproportionately more affected than men and boys.

Specifically, following the on-set of COVID-19, incomes for female-headed households declined while the majority of women particularly those working in urban areas informal sector lost their jobs; more women than men have had to either eat less or skip a meal; unpaid care work has increased for women more than men; women are walking for longer distances to fetch water and collect firewood; and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) notably increased at the onset of COVID-19 due to restrictions in movement.

For a long time, economists and humanitarians have failed to collect disaggregated data on gender, age and other applicable identifiers. This has led to women and girls being ‘invisible’ in data collection. As a result, policies do not account for the capabilities and needs of women and girls.

When the 2008 recession hit, few questions were asked on how stimulus measures would affect women differently in comparison to men. That approach will not be effective for the Covid-19 crisis and other cyclic crisis including climate change and conflict which are ever increasing in our communities.

As leaders face the enormous challenge of rebuilding post-pandemic economies, women and girls’ priorities must be central to crisis response, and the most effective pathway is to have them lead efforts to prevent and respond.

When women and girls lead, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions prevail.

Participation in public and political life and decision-making is a human right, and the over-representation of men in decision-making and leadership at all levels of society and government perpetuates gender injustice.

CARE’s equal voice and leadership programmes and advocacy focus on poor and marginalized women because they have the least influence in public life. CARE International in Kenya's Women's Voice and leadership program, 5 year program aims to contribute to gender equality and the increased enjoyment of human rights for women and girls in Kenya by improving the governance, management, programming, and sustainability of local women’s rights organisations.

Ultimately, it will be imperative that donors and development partners become emphatic in funding programs that demonstrate and account for the different needs and abilities of different vulnerable groups, particularly women and girls and ensure that women led, and rights organizations are equitably represented and have an equal voice in long-term development decision making structures and ensure that #SheLeadsinCrisis.

The writer is Dr Maureen Miruka – CARE Kenya, Country Director. 

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