International Women’s Day 2021
Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World
Sana’a Abdulrazzaq Abdullah is the principal of Al-Watan School for Girls in Mosul, the city she was born and raised in. As a girl she remembers growing up in a tightly knit community, one that valued solidarity and education.
“I was born in the sixties,” she says, “and when we were children in the seventies, Iraq was at the height of its progress and development.”
The coronavirus pandemic is just one of a series of hardships Ms. Abdullah and the people of Mosul have faced in the ensuing years.
Her school, which UNDP has helped to rebuild, was completely destroyed during the ISIL conflict. Ms. Abdullah remembers being devastated when she visited the site.
“After many attempts, I made it to my old area. I saw children and families. My neighbours held me and cried. The school was on the ground. Nothing left. It seems that the school was under severe shelling. The school was only dust at that time, I didn’t even see a piece of wood.”
As part of the efforts to rebuild Mosul, UNDP has supported the reconstruction of Al-Watan School and Ms. Abdullah has seen her students struggling with the double burdens of a brutal conflict and the social isolation that has come from the pandemic.
“The virus affected everyday life. It is difficult for people to just stay home without doing anything. It’s boring to do nothing or meet no one,” she says.
And she had to think creatively during the months of remote learning. “We live in a poor neighbourhood,” she says, “and the internet service is not that good.”
She began teaching using Facebook, and poorer students would go to the homes of their friends who had internet connections. “We asked the students who have internet service to help their poorer peers.”
Ms. Abdullah is training the next generation of leaders at Al-Watan, where students are delighted to be back in the classroom following months of disruption.
“Every day, before and after school hours, we sanitize the campus thoroughly. I am aware of the economic situation of our students, so we even bought masks for those who could not afford it,” she says.
The school has not had a single case of coronavirus.
The pandemic has shone a light on the many inequalities that women and girls across the world face — whether it’s from increased domestic violence, loss of jobs or the extra burdens of unpaid care work, and it’s highlighted the vital importance of more female leaders like Ms. Abdullah.
The global theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World’.
While there are more women leading than ever before, in public and political life, overall this progress is too slow. Women are still vastly underrepresented in all facets of decision-making.
But women’s leadership and representation is needed for stronger democracies, better governance and lasting peace. It is also essential to more effectively tackle pressing global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of its work to counter the pandemic’s disproportionate socio-economic effects on women and girls, UNDP is calling for a temporary basic income for women in developing countries to help address these severe economic challenges.
Its new report shows that a monthly investment of just 0.07 percent of developing countries’ GDP, or US$51 billion, could provide reliable financial security to 613 million working-aged women living in poverty, providing them with much-needed income and alleviating their daily economic pressures.
The funding is there, and the impact of the relatively small investment will be wide ranging.
“The benefits of such a meaningful investment could not only help women and their families absorb the shock of the pandemic, but also empower women to make independent decisions about money, livelihoods and life choices,“ says UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
There is an urgency to provide short-term financial security for women, say report authors, as the crisis has hit women much harder. Their work tends to be lower paid, if paid at all, and often lack social safety nets. They are also predominately in the sectors hardest hit by lockdowns.
“Gender inequality persists through uneven income and unequal divisions of labour, and while TBI is not a fix-all solution, it does help women increase their options right now during this crisis,” says Raquel Lagunas, UNDP Gender Team Director. “TBI provides a period of economic stability so women can organize their lives to suit their own interests and needs, and participate more fully in society.”
Economic stability is vital to help shift the power balance between men and women and to give women the option to participate more in decision-making and as leaders in all spaces.
Ms. Abdullah has lived through tremendous upheavals in her city and her country in the last few decades, but she’s also seen Iraqi women take on greater leadership roles.
“Iraqi women have proved their ability to succeed in all fields. Now you see them in top positions. We have female ministers and members of parliament,” she says. “I encourage women to take high positions, but they should be up to the responsibility to serve their country. Equality should not be limited to work, but should include every aspect of life.”