Building a more equal world: Federal election 2021 and women’s leadership

If we are to realize a truly inclusive recovery, we must invest in women and girls around the world

By Barbara Grantham, President and CEO, CARE Canada

COVID-19 has affected all of us, but not all of us equally. Given that recovery from this pandemic will depend on women leading everywhere around the world, what will Canada's political parties do to invest in women’s leadership?

With the federal election days away, I call on all party leaders to answer this key question: how will your party invest in women's leadership, health, safety, and livelihoods, here in Canada and globally, to drive a gender-just recovery that is better for everyone on this planet?

The pandemic is exacerbating deep structural inequalities in global economies, health care systems, and societies with devastating and disproportionate effects on women and girls – in particular marginalized women and minorities – threatening decades of progress.

The time for action is now. If we are to realize a truly inclusive recovery, we must invest in women and girls around the world.

Our collective frontline is predominantly women – first responders, providers, caretakers, activists, and leaders. When women have the opportunity to lead, we achieve great things. But more often than not, women’s voices have been absent from decision-making and response planning across sectors, industries, countries, and communities. We leave too many obstacles in the way.

Women-led and women's rights organizations receive less than 1 percent of official development assistance funding. Despite being at the forefront of emergency response in their communities and understanding best the unique needs of the most at risk within them, these organizations remain undervalued and under-resourced.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of women’s estimated $3 trillion USD contributions to global health work are unpaid and unrecognized. Altogether, the cost of unequal pay at work to the global economy is $160 trillion USD as reported by the World Bank.

Women also represent 70% of frontline global health workers, yet only represent 25% of senior roles. The gendered impacts of the COVID-19 crisis make women’s participation and inclusion in decision-making even more critical to effectively meet the humanitarian and recovery needs of their communities.

COVID-19 is compounding needs, inequalities, and risks in a world where humanitarian needs were already on the rise due to conflict, hunger, and natural disasters fuelled by climate change. It is a dire emergency, especially for women and girls. Globally, 132 million more people may face hunger because of COVID-19 and 41 million people are at risk of falling into famine. More than 70% of those facing chronic hunger in the world are women and girls.

Some might ask, with so many global crises, is focusing on women’s leadership really a worthwhile strategy?

This focus is not only worthwhile, it is essential to recovery here in Canada and around the world.

It has long been understood by the international community that investing in women-led crisis responses, while prioritizing gender equality, is the key to an effective and sustainable humanitarian and recovery response. And CARE's years of experience in more than 100 countries around the world proves this – time and again. When women are able to participate equally, humanitarian responses are more inclusive and effective in meeting both the short- and long-term needs of entire communities.

To deliver transformative change, we need every political party to prioritize women’s participation, insights, and leadership, in particular those of marginalized and minority women.

For women to lead, we must identify and remove the systemic barriers to meaningful participation by prioritizing investments and support for their fundamental rights – women need to be safe, healthy, and have access to dignified work.

A gender-just future–one that is better for all of us on this fragile planet–needs the leadership of women and girls. Because the world is better when women lead too.

During this election, ask your candidates: what will you do to invest in women’s leadership in Canada and around the world?


Barbara Grantham, CARE Canada's President and CEO

Barbara Grantham is CARE Canada's President and CEO