The UN Secretary General’s latest report on COVID-19 contains a chilling statement: “gains on gender equality risk being reversed by decades” by the pandemic. The numbers paint a stark picture of a possible 2 million additional cases of female genital mutilation globally by 2030, 13 million additional child marriages, an additional 15 million women and girls subjected to gender-based violence for every 3 months of lockdown, and a further 47 million women forced into extreme poverty.
The prospect of “decades” of progress in women’s rights being undone by the pandemic is intolerable and ought to be unthinkable. It is over half a century since the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights promised equal rights for all women, yet basic rights, protections and freedoms are still non-existent in some countries. In others, they are built on such fragile foundations that it seems the pandemic might sweep them away.