Women leaders discussed the impact of COVID-19 

30th International Women Leaders Conference 2018 (Photo: MCTC)
30th International Women Leaders Conference 2018 (Photo: MCTC)

More than 30,000 participants from around the world including the First Lady of Honduras, Minister of Education, Ecuador, Minister of Commerce, Burkina Faso, several ambassadors, and many more distinguished guests attended the e- conference in which dozens of women leaders took part in four panels. The conference had been streamed through Zoom and Facebook Live at MCTC, MASHAV, Israel MFA, and several Israeli Embassies Facebook pages.

Every two years, since 1961 based on the vision of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, Israel has been holding an international conference for women leaders discussing ways to advance the socio-economic status of women at the global level. 

This year’s special e-conference analyzed the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and provided a platform for leading women from all over the world to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls. The conference was held on July 27- 28, 2020.  

In previous years, the conference was held in Haifa and Jerusalem. But this year, due to the Coronavirus outbreak the conference had been held virtually online. The conference hosted participants from a variety of fields from around the world including participants from North America, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

In his opening remark ambassador Gil Haskel, Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Head of MASHAV – Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed the State of Israel’s effort in supporting the developing nation for over six decades through MASHAV. 

In her opening remark Hon. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations stated:

”…… The pandemic caused unprecedented and unrelenting health, humanitarian, and economic crisis… Gender-based violence is increasing at home and online… Women have less access to social protection… Millions of girls are out of school and many do not return … The Sustainable Development Goals’ shared global agenda provides the clearest path to address this injustice and inequalities as well as a blueprint to recover from the current global crisis…”   

The first panel analyzed the global economic impact of COVID-19 on women and girls. Five panelists discussed the main economic impact of the virus in different parts of the world.   

The first panelist Hon. Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) discussed the importance of education and skills for a better future. Women are not getting equal access to education. Transferable, digital, and entrepreneurial skills are vital for empowering women. The longer women are out of school the less likely they will return. UNICEF uses this moment to reimagine education and skills development for the future especially for women and young girls.    

The second panelist, Hon. Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe (UNECE) spoke about women and girls at the time of Corona in Europe. The virus is affecting all areas of our life. Women and girls are facing specific often disproportionate economic, health, and social risk from an increasing burden of unpaid care work to gender-based violence. In Europe, women are frontline on a flight against COVID-19. Women are the majority of workers in the healthcare sector. 

The third panelist Hon. Åsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director, The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, and the Empowerment of Women – (UN WOMEN) specifically addressed the women’s and girls’ challenges during COVID-19. The crisis deepened the existing inequalities in many ways. Due to COVID 19 women and men are losing their jobs in all parts of the world. However, women hit hard because many  women’s income sources are from informal sectors hit hardest  by the restriction on movement.  Many women who work in the informal sector are not getting unemployment benefits, social security, and healthcare. UN Women works to make sure  economic stimulus packages from UN member states to include support for women and girls in this challenging time. 

The last speaker of the first panel Prof. Frances Raday, Professor of Law at the Hebrew University also formerly served as  Special Rapporteur at the UN Human Rights Council deeply discussed the starting point for gender economic inequality. In her remarks,  Prof. Raday said that “The World Economic Forum predicts 100 years to close the general gender gap but 217 years to close the economic gender gap.” The recent success of  7 women leaders in controlling the COVID -19 in their respective countries is exemplary for the effectiveness of women’s leadership and gives the world hope for a better  future.     

Panel 2 focused on the social impact of COVID-19. Four panelists discussed the social impact of  COVID-19 on women and girls. Four panelists discussed the social problems caused by COVID 19.

The first panelist Hon. Member of Parliament Esther M. Passaris, Women Representative for Nairobi County, Kenya discussed the challenges caused by COVID 19 in Kenya and the government response. Corona outbreak in Kenya increased reports of rape, defilement of a child, and teenage pregnancy. Together with other parliament members, MP Passaris has been working towards addressing those issues. MP Passaris stressed the importance of including women in the leadership position where they can involve in the decision-making process in order to address the women’s and girls’ problems closely. 

The second panelist Hon. Mercedes Eleta Brenes, President STRATEGO Strategic Communications and Promotion of Social Responsibility, talked about COVID -19 impact in Panama. In Panama, the lockdown impacted both men and women. With children out of school and the high cost of healthcare, women’s unpaid care work has significantly increased. We have to address gender inequality not only by having new policies but also by changing the norm and the culture in a society. 

The third panelist Hon. Angela Mwai, Head of Gender Unit, The United Nations Human Settlements Programme  (UN-HABITAT)  discussed the social impact in urban areas. Cities faced the hardest hit in the pandemic. Marginalized groups are more vulnerable in emergency and also in recovery. Exclusion of this group from the emergency response can hamper the recovery of an entire community.UN-HABITAT supports those marginalized groups specifically women and girls in this challenging time. 

The final panelist of the second panel  focused on the challenges people with disabilities facing during COVID 19. Women with disabilities and mothers with disabilities did not get enough attention and information in regard to COVID 19. Inclusion is an important element of governance and needs to address the challenges of everyone in society.  

The theme of Panel 3 was social-economic implications and gender-responsive policies. Four panelists consisting of government officials and United Nation agencies representatives discussed the topic. 

Hon. Mila Carovska, Deputy Prime Minister of the Government for Economic Affairs, The Republic of North Macedonia opened the third panel. The Deputy Prime Minister affirmed the importance of including women’s and girls’ needs in all policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID 19 and she gave her government effort to have an inclusive policy as an example.  Furthermore, she pointed out the need to address gender-based violence and  support women who are living under constant violence throughout the pandemic. 

Hon. Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director-General, The Food, and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) focused on rural gender inequalities. Even before COVID 19 rural women are more constrained than men. Due to COVID 19 rural women are experiencing shrinking opportunities for production, processing, marketing, and networking. The Deputy Director-General calls for increasing women’s leadership and engagement in the design and implementation of COVID 19 responses. 

The third panelist Hon. Christine Musisi, Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme  (UNDP) presented the challenges women and girls facing during COVID 19.  Systematic discrimination against women and girls has led to interrupted access to routine health service and loss of livelihoods. Women in countries with multidimensional poverty are most likely to lack access to social protection. The policy response must be forward-looking while addressing immediate needs.   

The final panelist of the third panel Hon. Dr. Janet Kabeberi Macharia, Senior Advisor, Gender & Safeguards Unit, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) focused on gender, environment  , and COVID 19 nexus. COVID 19 does not provide a silver lining for the environment but lessons learned from the management of the crisis provide an opportunity to both revisit our relationship with nature and rebuild a more environmentally responsible world. Dr. Janet Kabeberi Macharia called for multilateral/ regional collaboration to strengthen environmental resilience.  

The final panel concentrated on building resilience through cooperation and partnerships. Five panelists consisting of government representatives and international agency leaders participated in the panel.  

Hon. Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincón, Vice President of the Republic of Colombia opened the fourth and the final panel.  In her remark, the Vice President said one in two women in Latin America works in the informal sector. This leads women to a great risk of falling to poverty. The Colombian government has been working to support  people that are impacted by the pandemic  in a special focus on women and girls.  

Hon. Shirley Ayorkor Botchway, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana expressed the importance of building corporations and partnerships to combat the spread of COVID 19. In developing countries, women are most affected and somehow lost their means of income. In Ghana, the government through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has been implementing several programs to support women and children during COVID 19. 

The third speaker Hon. Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO)  stressed the importance of having  social and economic mitigation plans. The pandemic affects all aspects of our life and the world as a whole. Gender inequality has been increasing due to the outbreak of COVID 19.  Governments, parliaments, civil society, and others need to be engaged in the effort to support women and girls.  

The fourth panelist Hon. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) talked about inclusive connectivity. The power and the transformation of  potential connectivity are not equally distributed and COVID 19 making it even worse. Since the world is moving to digitalization and most jobs are requiring at least basic ICT knowledge, access to technology can improve women’s and girls’ lives and open up new opportunities. ITU is running several programs around the world aiming to spread inclusive connectivity. 

The fifth and final speaker of the panel Hon. Mario Pezzini, Director of Development Centre, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) stressed the importance of strengthening social institutions for gender equality and development. Hon. Mario Pezzini said,” We need to rethink international cooperation as well as we need a new multilateralism with a real table of discussion and new voices”.   

 The conference was very successful and appreciated by many. We hope to host the next conference in Jerusalem and Haifa.

About the Author
Yehuda Michael resides in Haifa. Yehuda obtained a BA in Political Science & Communication from Hadassah College in Jerusalem, and an MA in Sustainable International Development, MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence and an MBA from Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA; as well as a Certificate in Chinese culture from Peking University in Beijing, China. Yehuda has been working on projects related to entrepreneurial ecosystem development, marketing consultancy, entrepreneurship development, business mentorship, building business partnerships, and public diplomacy in Africa, South-east Asia, Europe, China, Israel, and the United States. He works closely with international agencies, government bureaus, and startup accelerators internationally. He lectures on Business related topics specifically in marketing and management concerns internationally.
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