If women ruled the world, how would the past year have played differently?
On International Women's Day, it's an intriguing question to ponder as we take stock of the successes and notable failures of the past 12 months.
As mothers, aunties, grandmothers, and daughters, women think daily about the future and what it holds.
We bring a longer-term perspective on politics and decision-making, recognising that short term thinking has stifled democracy and our ability to tackle the defining challenges of our time, most notably climate change.
And yet despite representing more than half the world's population, only 11 per cent of UN member states have female leaders, just 7.4 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women and women represent only one quarter of COVID task forces around the world yet represent 75 per cent of those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response.
It's not just about the gender of the leader, of course.
Canada has recognised this by introducing a feminist international assistance policy, which focuses on the eradication of poverty, building a more peaceful and inclusive world and prioritising the rights of women and girls in their global relations.
Applying the same principles to public health, regionally and globally, would more gender-diverse leadership have rendered different policies? Here's some possibilities.
- We would have got the detail right. Those at the frontlines would have had personal protective equipment designed for the different sizes and needs of women and men to keep people safe.
- Lockdowns would have been managed with greater focus on the challenges of combining schooling, work and caring, with active steps to support mothers juggling their responsibilities.
- Funding for organisations working to prevent gender-based violence would have dramatically increased. There would have been greater outreach to women and children at risk of violence.
- We would have pivoted to a climate resilient future with investment in renewable energy, a focus on the new digital economy and investment in regional, remote and rural enterprise.
- Gender responsive budgeting would have realigned current investment priorities with significant investment in developing well-resourced health systems with a health workforce able to respond to future pandemics. Central to this would be recognising the value of caring work by accounting not just for the cost, but the flow-on benefits of this investment.
- Financial support for caregivers including for childcare, eldercare, and people with disabilities would have become a permanent feature of the economy, not as a welfare issue but as a sound economic investment.
- An overhaul of the aged care sector would be under way to support residents in institutional care to be able to live well rather than the current focus on dying well (or badly, in a time of COVID-19).
- Investment in the arts would have been fundamental to the pandemic response, recognising the vital role of artists in giving meaning to life, and in supporting people's mental health and kindling imagination.
- More diplomacy and collaboration across states, countries, and communities to support decision-making, and to end wars and conflicts that continued to rage through the pandemic. Collaboration in the COVID response and vaccine roll out would also ensure that national wealth was not a determinant of access to protection, recognising the world will only return to normal when the poorest are protected.
- And we would lead with humility and honesty in our public debates, embracing our values and common humanity, rather than exploiting our differences.
The co-creation of this article is reflective of what we are calling for: combined wisdom with diverse and collective voices for change.
Happy International Women's Day!
Ari Gorring is chief executive of the Pollination Foundation, Jane Sloane is senior director of women's empowerment and gender equality with The Asia Foundation, and Negaya Chorley is chief executive of Results International.
- Join Ari, Jane, Negaya and Natasha Stott Despoja (now Global Citizen board director and representative to the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) for an International Women's Day virtual event at midday, March 11 at https://bit.ly/3sP9Zdl