The 2021 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) conference which was the 65th session, focussed on women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life as well as the elimination of violence particularly in light of the current global pandemic. The World YWCA and YWCA Australia hosted a virtual parallel event at CSW65 titled “Diversity as a Driver: LGBTIQ inclusion in feminist and social movements” at which CAL was represented on the panel by Nozizwe Ntesang, a researcher at CAL. The parallel event’s objective was to reflect on the power of inclusion and diversity in feminist and social movements throughout the lens of LGBTIQ experience. (The recorded webinar can be watched on YouTube on this link)
The exclusion of women and queer people in decision making in strategising and tackling Covid-19 is reflective of the general exclusion of women in decision making and political participation – globally women’s representation in parliament is 25% according to the Inter Parliamentary Union. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (United Nations, 2015) emphasises that women’s leadership and a gender perspective should be integrated into all disaster policies and practices throughout. However, states in Africa particularly have failed to take into consideration that women and people of non-conforming sexualities who are among the marginalised in society, have borne the brunt end of the pandemic and should therefore be included in drafting state response plans as well as recovery strategies. Despite, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stating that “every citizen has the right and the opportunity…to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through chosen representatives,” the YWCA webinar panelists highlighted that women and LGBTIQ people are still not included in making decisions and finding solutions to the challenges they face. (For more on inclusive decision making, click here to read CAL’s 2020 Autonomy report on violence against women and women’s political participation in Rwanda, Benin and Tunisia.)
In an exploration of what’s currently missing in organising with regards to tackling, living and working in the pandemic, Nozizwe Ntesang (CAL researcher) spoke about the lack of feminist leadership in tackling the pandemic and its effects (particularly on well-being), as well as the lack of a concerted effort on managing the effects of the pandemic on women living in the margins such us queer women and poor women. We haven’t seen a response that caters specifically to the heightened needs of those living in the margins, for instance when we’re told that hospitals are overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases and are full, it is not clear what provisions are made when women need sexual and reproductive health services and care. Many of the task forces in Africa set up to deal with Covid-19 don’t have the requisite representation which means the strategies developed are consequently not inclusive, in Botswana for instance, the task force is made up of only men, constituting a complete disregard of women and queer people’s needs,
Amasai Jeke, a trans feminist activist, spoke about the challenges of surviving financially in a pandemic and living in a difficult situation as a trans woman with no access to the health care they require all while adjusting to living in a different country after moving from Fiji to USA. Fiji is still recovering from two big cyclones that hit the country back to back earlier this year. Thankfully there are organisations that are working to support LGBTIQ people in Fiji. According to a report titled “Building Bridges,” which focuses on the experiences of LGBTIQ people post and pre-disasters, LGBTIQ in Fiji are constantly blamed as the causes of climate change and cyclones. Through the report, conversations can now be had with faith based leaders in Fiji to change the narratives that assign blame in the events of environmental disasters on LGBTIQ people.
Bobbie Trower, senior advocacy manager at World YWCA spoke about the effects of the pandemic on young women and people of marginalised gender identities and sexualities, highlighting that they will experience the biggest health and economic impacts of Covid-19 even later in their lives. Governments can do better by using an intersectional analysis and incorporating gender responsive budgeting among other strategies of inclusion, but they choose not to. Looking back at post-crisis periods globally, we often regroup and rebuild better during these periods, and governments can choose to do better and tackle systemic problems, but what we’re seeing is many governments digging their heels in.
Tania Safi, a media activist, spoke about some of the lesser known impacts of the pandemic in Lebanon. There are about half a million migrant workers in Lebanon whose rights are stripped from them the moment they arrive, their passports are taken from them, they’re not paid, they experience violence. During Covid-19, many employers put these already mistreated workers out on the streets which led to a rise in homelessness in Lebanon.
Imungu Kalevera, a queer feminist from Kenya working with Hivos’ programme “Bridging the gap”, spoke about the mass loss of jobs in Kenya which has effectively meant that those living in the margins under difficult financial constraints have had their situations worsened. Lockdowns in the country mean that people who need it, can not access their medication from hospitals. There is insufficient data on the numbers of infections and where the data exists on infection and on the impact of Covid-19, the data is not appropriately disaggregated. Without the data, the interventions designed cannot possibly be comprehensive. An illustration of this is the fact that holistic care discussions are only being had much later into the pandemic. Recovery plans are not taking into account the deep seated vulnerabilities that existed and have been further exposed by the pandemic. The recovery plans don’t seem to indicate that we want to do things differently. Without proper representation in making decisions about recovery plans, we leave out the important voices speaking about some of the people who have been worst hit by the pandemic.
At the end of CSW65 the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, pointed out that the 2021 session of the CSW marked the first time in 15 years that women’s participation in public life was discussed to this extent and urged all UN Member States to move with haste to achieve equal representation. Covid-19 is further deepening structural inequalities which means that people living in the margins, including women and LGBTIQ people, are going to be in far worse states than they were in pre-pandemic. If we’re not careful, and if we continue to exclude them from planning and decision making about their lives, we risk losing significant strides that have been made through decades of gender and sexual rights activism.