from Women Around the World and Women and Foreign Policy Program

The Pandemic Hasn’t Stopped the Rise of the Women’s Movement

This past International Women's Day on March 8, women in Argentina participate in a protest. Florencia Guzzetti/REUTERS

Digital tools have multiplied collective power around the world. Leaders must invest in sustaining it.

Originally published at Foreign Policy

July 13, 2021 4:10 pm (EST)

This past International Women's Day on March 8, women in Argentina participate in a protest. Florencia Guzzetti/REUTERS
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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

In early July, world leaders addressed the United Nations Generation Equality Forum in Paris, reaffirming gender equality’s role in prosperity and stability as well as commemorating the landmark 1995 Beijing conference that enshrined women’s rights in international law. But two and a half decades later, not nearly enough has changed for women around the world, at least on the surface.

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The coronavirus pandemic unmasked deeply rooted structural barriers to gender equality, widening persistent gender gaps. Women already saddled with an unequal caregiving burden saw their responsibilities multiply as schools and child care centers closed, giving them an extra 173 hours of unpaid work in the past year, on average—around three times more than men. These economic setbacks were worsened by increasing rates of intimate partner violence as many women sheltered at home with their abusers.

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Female-dominated industries, such as hospitality, food service, and retail, were especially vulnerable to the initial coronavirus crisis. In the United States, nearly 3 million women—and disproportionately women of color—lost their jobs, sending female participation in the labor force to a 33-year low. Although women comprise only 39 percent of workers globally, they suffered the majority of job losses during the pandemic.

But even challenges to gender equality presented by the pandemic cannot stop the rise of the 21st-century global women’s movement. Digital organizing has fueled the most widespread cultural reckoning on women’s rights in history. Unlike in 1995, the current wave of the global women’s movement isn’t measured by the number of delegates squeezed into a U.N. convention hall. The fight for gender equality has amassed power in new ways, using digital tools that have democratized and diversified the movement, accelerating change across borders and creating the conditions for unprecedented progress.

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