Angeyo Betty prepares meals despite being sick

Have we done enough in achieving women's equality?

International Women’s Day was on 8 March 2021 and with it, a reminder that Uganda and the world at large are still struggling with the issues that have for long slowed down the success of women. In 2020, the coronavirus lockdown demonstrated the day-to-day hardships that women face in their lives. Unpaid care work, inadequate access to property, assets and financial services; violence and the right to an education. These are some of the enduring issues that show we are far from the reality of emancipating women.

Each year, many women across the world are celebrated with their biographies televised and published showcasing their accomplishments. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the gains made on gender equality over the past decades, especially since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, are at risk of being rolled back.

For centuries, women have battled inequality. And even with Kamala Harris breaking barriers as United States’ first woman vice president, it’s still not representative enough for the young girls and women in rural Uganda. We still have to grow up in a system and society that claims to fight for the girl child and women’s rights while still preserving and promoting social norms and practices that foster inequality.

A 2021 Oxfam report dubbed “The Inequality Virus” found that the 740 million women working in the informal sector lost 60% of their income in the first month of the COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic also disproportionally pushed women out of employment in highly feminized sectors such as tourism and hospitality. Women have also been exposed to COVID-19 due to their role in picking up care workload from home and at the workplace. Worldwide, about 70% of the social work force is occupied by women who are frequently the principal caregivers when household members fall sick, which puts them at greater risk of being exposed to the virus themselves. Greater unpaid care responsibilities and the resulting gender-differentiated exposure to work and household stressors contribute to poor mental health in women, including depression, and exposure to the risk of violence.

In March 2020, Uganda joined more than 180 countries in the temporary closure of their schools, leaving close to 1.7 billion children and youth out of school. The pandemic deprived children in the poorest countries of more than four months of schooling. The girl child has been placed in a more vulnerable situation due to exposure to early marriages, unwanted pregnancies and violence. It has been estimated that the pandemic will reverse the gains of the last 20 years of global progress made on girls’ education, resulting in increased poverty and inequality. The driving force of inequality is the negative social norms that priotise men over women and the weak enforcement of laws against the violation of women’s rights.

As we celebrate women, let us shift from simply endorsing gender equality and actively address the underlying issues that continue to slip through the cracks and slow down development. The government and concerned stakeholders should set concrete measures and targets to reduce inequality in order to promote a more equal world for women and girls.