COVID-19 has humbled us as a global community. Much of what we thought we understood about the world—down to what and who are considered “essential”—has gone out the window as life is fundamentally altered.
As President of Global Fund for Women, I am learning so much from this moment. I’m learning from grantee partners who are responding to immediate COVID-19 needs in their communities all around the globe and laying the groundwork for broader gender justice and equality.
I am learning from sister women’s funds and many foundations who are stepping up their giving in this time of unprecedented need. And I am learning from essential workers, mothers, caregivers, women human rights defenders, and women leaders on how to embody empathy, grace, and innovation under fire.
In the spirit of collaboration I am sharing 19 lessons I have picked up so far during COVID-19. I hope after reading, you will share some of the lessons you’re learning as well.
- Feminist movements are multi-faceted. Gender justice movements are adapting for this moment, running hotlines for domestic violence survivors, fighting racist responses to the pandemic, and making sure marginalized communities can access food and shelter.
- Ideology is no excuse. Bad actors around the world are using social distancing and other coronavirus emergency measures to justify authoritarianism, militarism, xenophobia, and racism. We must stay vigilant, continue, and increase our support for movement strategies to respond to new forms of oppression—including bad policy—in this precarious moment.
- We can walk and chew gum at the same time. While the virus will create new challenges that demand immediate responses, we also must keep our eyes on long-term goals and justice, and we must raise our voices against injustice. For example, women human rights defenders in Egypt have been detained and imprisoned unjustly for months prior to the crisis. We cannot forget about them now – especially because they are now facing heightened risk of COVID-19 in prison.
- Sexual and reproductive health and rights are “essential”. Full stop. Opposition movements are exploiting this emergency to push their repressive agendas forward including in the push to restrict abortion access and sexual healthcare in the name of “coronavirus response.” No way. We know sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential and should be available now and always.
- Strengthening health systems to provide equitable access is important – for all of us. Age, race, class, and ethnicity continues to serve as determinants to death from this disease. It is more obvious than ever before that if even one person lacks access to comprehensive care, it undermines the stability and safety of an entire community.
- Home is not a shelter for everyone. Millions around the world are sheltering in place – but home is not a safe space for all. We’re hearing from grantee partners that there is an increase in domestic violence calls, and we are seeing that in places that are already overcrowded, such as refugee camps, the spread of the virus is more likely, and can be devastating. As we envision a long-term COVID-19 response and recovery, we should consider how we can change this reality and ensure that home is a safe place for all.
- Public health works. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Now is not the time to cut funding to the World Health Organization, or institutions like it who are crucial to help us #flattenthecurve.
- We can’t forget about the next generation. Girls are already underfunded by philanthropy, and in a crisis like this, their needs are often the last to be considered. This generation of leaders needs support, too.
- Women in political leadership matter. Female leaders around the globe, from Angela Merkel in Germany to President Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, have taken decisive action and shown empathetic responses to community needs, and the willingness to seek out expert advice in response to the pandemic—and it has saved lives.
- Women rise to the moment everywhere. Women make up the bulk of healthcare workers and unpaid and underpaid workers in the world. They have always been essential—and it is now more obvious than ever. We must compensate them fairly and protect them effectively.
- Community-led response is key. Local actors must be the decision-makers. Some incredible examples of how community-led response can make a huge impact are portrayed in the Fundamental film series, created by Global Fund for Women and now streaming free. From advocating for racial justice in Milwaukee to demanding LGBTQI rights in the country of Georgia, grassroots activism can inspire powerful change. Which is why…
- …Supporting local organizations is essential. Funding for local organizations is approximately 1% of all funding, and even less for women-led organizations and communities.
- Funders must step up. Funders must support both the short-term response and the long-term infrastructure to combat this inequality. And there are funds.. Stimulus bills around the world show us that. Spend it where it counts.
- Flexible funding saves lives. It lets organizations respond to community needs quickly— and we know how quickly things are changing during this time.
- Deep, structural change IS possible. The pandemic is the portal. Things that seemed impossible before this time—closing economies, staying home for weeks on end, keeping children out of school—have all come to pass during this emergency. What previously “unthinkable” changes—toward a more just, equal society—are within our reach?
- Creativity comes out in crisis. Let’s embrace that. Now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine and reshape the future. Our most innovative, ambitious ideas are needed at this moment; we can’t afford to waste it.
- There’s no “right way” to feel about hardship
- We’re all in this together. We may be seeing less of each other in person these days, but none of us are alone. Even in moments of darkness we can find ways to support and recognize each other’s humanity.
- Our rights are fundamental. Healthcare, food security, education, safety. But also: community, kindness, generosity. COVID-19 has stripped everything down to the fundamentals.