By Abdul Aziz Isa
The International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 and is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights.
This year’s IWD is like no other. As the country and communities start to slowly recover from a devastating pandemic, we have the chance to finally end the exclusion and marginalisation of women and girls.
But to do that, we need immediate action. Women must have the opportunity to play a full role in shaping the pivotal decisions being made right now as our country respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decisions and choices will affect the wellbeing of people and the country for generations to come.
To do this, we must break down the deep-seated historic, cultural, and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed.
For instance, across the globe (be it in the developed, developing and third world countries), women remain concentrated in the lowest paid jobs.
Many are in extremely vulnerable forms of employment and women are nearly twice as likely than men to lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.
Indeed, the pandemic will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women who live in poverty.
Therefore, both state and federal governments in Malaysia, should address these inequalities.
Let us take into account of the latest new policy brief introduced by the United Nations Development Programme (“UNDP”) which explores how a Temporary Basic Income for women in developing countries could provide part of the solution.
UNDP argues that a worthwhile monthly investment of 0.07 per cent of developing countries’ GDP could help 613 million working-aged women living in poverty to absorb the shock of the pandemic.
It would also contribute to the economic security and independence that is necessary for women to engage more deeply in the decisions that could change their future.
Despite the barriers, women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements for social change – online and in the streets.
That includes their leading role in taking a stand against climate change, advocating anti-corruption, fighting for a green economy and pushing for women’s rights.
And we know that more inclusive leadership and representation leads to stronger democracies, better governance, and more peaceful societies.
Look, for instance, to research by UN Women entitled “Women’s Participation And A Better Understanding Of The Political”, which demonstrates that involving women in peace processes is likely to make peace agreements last much longer.
The research found that, firstly women’s participation increases the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years by 20 percent, and by 35 percent the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years.
Secondly, analysis of 40 peace processes since the end of the Cold War shows that, in cases where women were able to exercise a strong influence on the negotiation process, there was a much higher chance that an agreement would be reached than when women’s groups exercised weak or no influence.
In cases of strong influence of women, an agreement was almost always reached.
Thirdly, peace agreements are 64 percent less likely to fail when civil society representatives participate.
And lastly, in 15 of 16 national dialogues examined, decision-making was left to a small group of male leaders.
However, the world isn’t moving fast enough on this and in the context of Malaysia, there is still much progress that needs to be done for women to play an active role in both politics and leaderships.
Women’s full and effective participation and leadership in of all areas of life drives progress for everyone.
Yet, women are still underrepresented in public life and decision-making, as revealed in the UN Secretary-General’s recent report. Women are Heads of State or Government in 22 countries, and only 24.9 per cent of national parliamentarians are women.
At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government, for example, will take another 130 years.
Women are also at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line and health sector workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts.
An analysis of COVID-19 task teams from 87 countries found only 3.5 percent of them had gender parity.
When women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and exemplary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women.
Women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements online and on the streets for social justice, climate change and equality in all parts of the world.
Yet, women under 30 are less than 1 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide.
To disrupt the status quo, UNDP is working to amplify women’s voices and promote their participation and leadership in public institutions, parliaments, the judiciary, and the private sector.
With our support, some 180 different measures from electoral quotas to gender-smart business policies – were put in place by countries across the globe in 2019.
The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker by UNDP and UN Women is helping Governments to identify and address gaps in their response to the pandemic – from ways to address gender-based violence to how to redistribute unpaid care work.
To build forward better from the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot simply return to the world we had before.
We must do things differently. That means shattering the barriers that hold women and girls back.
This year’s IWD is a rallying cry for Generation Equality. It is time to finally fully harness the power of women’s leadership to realise a more equal, more inclusive and more sustainable future.
Abdul Aziz Isa is the DAP Batu Kitang chairman and also DAPSY Stampin chief