The world is better when she leads too

By Barbara Grantham, President and CEO, CARE Canada

As celebrations of women’s achievements have grown over the years, so have calls for more action towards a more equal world. This year, we somberly approach another milestone – one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. While the virus has affected people of all genders, women, girls and non-binary people have suffered disproportionately.   

We need to act now to ensure decades of progress on women’s rights, poverty reduction and resilience are not lost. But this time, instead of acting on our own, we need to staunchly back up the leadership that has always existed in local organizations, in local communities, and in women leaders.

Around the world, stories of hope and inspiration over the past year have frequently featured women leading the way through the pandemic. Our collective front line—first responders, providers, caregivers, activists and leaders—predominantly comprises women. Several studies have found that COVID-19 outcomes are more positive in countries led by women in part because of their proactive and inclusive approach. An August 2020 study found statistically significant fewer deaths in US states led by women governors, again citing that women leaders placed greater value on a culture of inclusion.

Do we need all leaders to be women? No. But we have seen, time and again, that the world is better when she leads too. And if we know that women’s leadership is key to building forward through this pandemic to a more inclusive, more equal world—what’s holding us back?

The power of women’s leadership is often undermined by our failure to ensure her basic rights and priorities. Women who lead in Canada do so because they have access to safety, to health and to dignified work. And more women from all backgrounds in our communities would lead if they had greater access to these basic rights.

The power of women’s leadership transcends borders—especially in this time of global solidarity.

This year, when we celebrate women, we must support their leadership. We must seize this moment to build a world that is more equal.  Because that world will be a better one for all of us.

Barbara Grantham

President & CEO, CARE Canada

All women need to be safe from gender-based violence, with spaces and programs that prevent and respond to violence against women whether in the home, workplace, or community. For many women, lockdowns, curfews and economic downturn have confined them with their abusers, driving huge increases globally in gender-based violence and forced childhood marriage. Women and girls have become part of a "shadow pandemic" where legal and social protections have taken a back seat to health enforcement. 

To be healthyall women and girls need to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and  have full access to sexual and reproductive health services. While preliminary analyses indicated that COVID-19 poses a greater risk of severe illness and mortality to men, women face multiple health risks beyond the biological impacts of COVID-19. As 70 per cent of the global health care work force, women have too often responded to the pandemic with insufficient protection.

All women also deserve meaningful, safe and dignified work that is equally valued. We must remove the burden of unpaid care. This unrecognized and undervalued work has dramatically increased during the pandemic, amounting to a double workday for those women who manage to keep their jobs. Women need access to skills, knowledge and resources to earn a safe and fair living. We need to advocate against discriminatory laws, policies and systems.

Helping her access basic rights and support will unlock women's leadership - but it doesn’t stop at her. We need to engage men and boys as powerful allies in speaking and acting in support of her rights and her leadership. 

The effects of COVID-19 have been, and will continue to be, devastating for all individuals, communities, and countries. Yet the crisis provides a unique opportunity to build forward rather than back. This year, when we celebrate women, we must support their leadership. We must seize this moment to build a world that is more equal.  Because that world will be a better one —for all of us.   

This March, join CARE as we listen, learn from and amplify the voices of women leaders in Canada and around the world.