As the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, it not only constituted a threat to health, but also shocked societies and dismantled economies. The negative impact of the pandemic on women, in particular, has been noticeable, and the gender gap has further widened in areas such as healthcare, education, economic security, and digitalization. Insomuch that our gains in the last 25 years for gender equality were practically zeroed as if no progress had been made. In light of these findings, the following are certain: women’s economic security is at stake, the gender poverty gap is widening, violence against women is increasing, girls’ education is at a standstill and maternal health is being neglected.
The United Nations’ Women Unit announced that the theme of 2021 would be “Women in Leadership”, and it emphasized in its latest report the importance of women’s role in leadership positions at all levels both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, there are only 20 women who are state or government leaders, and they demonstrated the strength of their leadership with their successes in inclusive decision-making during the pandemic. This situation has revealed how the different experiences, perspectives and abilities women leaders can bring to the political arena contribute to decision-making processes and policies. Many states around the world have now rolled up their sleeves to address emerging and long-standing gender inequalities and identify women’s needs.
When we look at the world, we see that societies and economies are seeking a new social contract that prioritizes social justice and gender equality. This approach is the culmination of our need for change, evidence-based research, and an environment that is forcing us to be innovative. There is a search for systems that can prevent violence against women, operate on a principle of social protection that helps women, are able to change social norms by producing inclusive policies that include care services and economically empower women.
As a result of the pandemic, states and the public sector have been assigned a great responsibility in managing the crisis, but the private sector and civil society also carry an important role in managing the crisis and increasing society’s resilience against it. With contributions from all stakeholders in the creation of a new social contract, concepts such as digital platforms, communication technologies, new financing models, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, impact investing, social entrepreneurship, and innovation have become crucial.
The gender gap must be bridged to build a more equal and crisis-resistant society, and the way to achieve this is by increasing women’s representation and leadership in every field and pursuing gender-focused strategies in investments.
Women-related initiatives should focus particularly on strategic areas where the representation of women is limited. For example, we should aim to put more women in positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), finance, and social innovation. The fact that these areas are more strategic in terms of resource and power-sharing in the traditional sense, and that they will constitute the basis for producing innovative solutions in the post-COVID-19 world, requires women to take part in this equation. While issues such as digitalization, digital currencies and payment systems, the full transition to automation, AI-based systems, smart cities, and governance solutions are on the world’s agenda, women should also sit at the table and take their rightful place in decision- making mechanisms.
What should women’s role be in the COVID-19 process?
Firstly, we should see more women in decision-making and leadership positions in the above- mentioned strategic areas, both during the recovery/recuperation period and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an era when we are pursuing technology and innovation-oriented goals, more women should be active in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and their existence in this sector should be encouraged.
Since reports have already established that women are the group most exposed to inequality in financial terms during the pandemic, financing should be provided to ensure gender equality. In this sense, women-oriented investments are crucial. As much as women-oriented bonds and loans can fill this gap, so will encouraging and incentivizing businesses owned and managed by women, ensuring the sustained growth of businesses supplying beneficial products to women, and implementing strategies to ensure gender equality in workplaces, and hence, make a difference. Women-oriented investment is the key to achieving our desired goals in this value chain.
Of course, it is paramount that more women take innovative initiatives to empower other women and achieve gender equality. Empowering women means increasing society’s resistance against crises. In the path towards achieving this goal, if women generate and share more innovative knowledge and experiences about their social enterprises, their effect will only be multiplied.