FROM THE FRONTLINES

The women activists fighting for equality amid crisis

In conflicts and crises, women and girls are almost always hit hardest.

Two in three women experience gender-based violence in crisis situations. That is double the global average in regular settings, which is already disturbingly high. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were nearly twice as likely as men to lose their jobs, and there’s been an increase in their experiences of violence. The pandemic is expected to result in an extra 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030.

Even before COVID-19, the world was seeing an unprecedented rise in conflict, fragility, violent extremism and climate-related tensions. Approximately 15 percent of the world’s total population – or 1.2 billion people – live in conflict-affected areas, and 100 million people are forcibly displaced. From Afghanistan to Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Syria to Venezuela and Yemen, the majority of those fleeing are women and children.

Like other violent conflicts, the war in Ukraine is inflicting deep harm and is affecting women and girls disproportionately. More than 8 million women have been displaced within and outside of the country. Alarming levels of sexual violence, including exploitation and trafficking, have been reported.

The climate emergency is another example of how women and girls face greater hardship in times of crisis. As many as 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women, and countries report higher rates of food insecurity for women than men, with a gap of more than 4 percentage points in 2021 according to WFP.

Yet, around the world women are at the front of climate action.

Women comprise more than 40 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries and 47 percent of the fisheries workforce, even though their roles in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are often unrecognized. Globally, women represent only 15 percent of all landholders. Yet, it’s been established that given equal access to resources, women farmers would lift 150 million people out of hunger.

In many disasters, women are the first responders, and their knowledge and leadership are critical to mobilizing local communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. But they are often invisible in preparedness and risk reduction decision-making processes.

Women’s participation in peace negotiations leads to more durable peace. Evidence shows that when women are at the negotiating table, resulting peace agreements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.

When it comes to the pandemic recovery, data from the UNDP-UN Women gender tracker shows that countries with greater women’s participation on COVID-19 taskforces are more effective in responding to the virus. Yet at the present rate, it will take about 145 years to reach gender parity in political representation.

The list goes on.

Women are our doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, women of letters, you name it. They are sisters, daughters, mothers and grandmothers. And beyond the bodies, minds and lives affected, society as a whole suffers the consequences.

This year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a renewed effort to call attention to the most pervasive breach of human rights worldwide. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet 16 of the millions of changemakers, partners and advocates who tirelessly fight to make a difference from the frontlines of crises.

Each woman’s story is unique.

As new layers of uncertainty are stacking up and interacting to unsettle life around the world in unprecedented ways, it’s clear that sustainable peace and resilience cannot happen without ensuring the human rights of half of the world's population.

Change is possible. And as these stories show, it’s already happening.

For the world to build back better in the wake of crises, women’s rights need to be preserved and women’s voices need to be heard. Because, when they are, development thrives, economies grow and peace prevails.

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