Challenging the Gender Impacts of a Pandemic

International Women's Day 2021

Happy International Women's Day with a photograph of Carole Barron

On 8th March, International Women’s Day encourages individuals worldwide to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality. To mark the occasion, Carole Barron, Director of Knowledge Exchange and Innovation, reflects on the challenges which must be addressed to counter the gender impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, women who inspire her and what #IWD2021 means to her.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 we all have less time to reflect on important issues that matter to us personally such as International Women’s Day as we are, quite rightly, focused on looking after and protecting our families, the wider population, and of course the NHS. I would like to say as we approach #IWD2021 that support for women generally has moved on since I launched the Inspire, Challenge, Excel Programme (ICE-P) in 2017.  However, the pandemic has shown us that women’s lives have been significantly impacted by Covid-19.

A recent policy brief by the UN Secretary-General explores how women’s and girls’ lives are changing in the face of COVID-19. This includes how the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities and exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. This is across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, where the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their gender.

Having read the policy brief I wanted to come up with my own conclusions, but I couldn’t do justice to the conclusions of the report.  Here they are:

“Every COVID-19 response plan, and every recovery package and budgeting of resources, needs to address the gender impacts of this pandemic. This means: (1) including women and women’s organizations at the heart of the COVID-19 response; (2) transforming the inequities of unpaid care work into a new, inclusive care economy that works for everyone; and (3) designing socio-economic plans with an intentional focus on the lives and futures of women and girls. Putting women and girls at the centre of economies will fundamentally drive better and more sustainable development outcomes for all, support a more rapid recovery, and place us back on a footing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” (Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on women, 2020)

Which women most inspire you?

When I launched the  Inspire Challenge Excel Programme (ICE-P) I was asked who I admired. For me it was easy as I had just read Stella Rimington’s book. “Who is Stella Rimington?” you may ask. She was the first female Director General of MI5, and the first DG whose name was publicised on appointment. I was fortunate to hear her speak at an event at which she talked about how she got into the role, and the hurdles she had to overcome. You can imagine, once it was announced, the media focused on her being this ‘housewife spy’, and not on why she was really chosen. Her story inspired me, not that I was thinking of applying for the next DG role within MI5!

The other person I admire is my daughter. She holds a senior executive position on a board in the UK, and champions women in her industry sector, and over the past few years has led a campaign on Equality & Diversity in the sector. For the past four years she has appeared in the PRWeek UK Power Book, the definitive guide to the brightest and most influential PR professionals in Britain! She also mentors and coaches women working in her area of Communications, and is an amazing mother. I don’t mind admitting it, and of course I am biased, but she is a bit of a role model to me. Like most women suffering from imposter syndrome, she would not admit it herself, but she is incredible, and has achieved so much, so young. I am also proud to say she is a University of Kent Alumni.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

#IWD2021 is about all the women out there that we want to help, support, and inspire in our community, our colleagues, and grandchildren.  I am hoping, in the long run, that the world for my granddaughters will be a different place; one where there are no barriers for them, and they can be successful at whatever they choose to do.

#ChooseToChallenge #inspirechallengeexcel  Enjoy International Women’s Day!

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