Panel Discussion: In Digital and Women’s Night In:

Friday the 27th November 2020 at 18:00 Geneva


Thank you Mme Moderator for giving me the floor.

First of all, kindly allow me to salute and thank Her Excellency  Mme Elke Büdenbender, wife of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany and Honorable Michelle Müntefering,  Minister of State for International Cultural Policy, Germany, for your kind invitation to be part of this  Women’s Night In”.

Permit also to recognize Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, AWLN Patron and my sister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, with whom I share the pleasure to be the co-convener of AWLN, an Africa wide movement of African women leaders, initiated by women and supported by UN and AUC, with a strong partnership from Germany.

Let me stand on the existing protocol.

Coming back to the questions of our panel

How can we counter the backlash on women’s rights? Can this crisis be a chance to enhance women’s participation in transition processes?”.

COVID-19 has indeed, made bare the backlash on women’s rights.

It has exposed glaring gaps that exist worldwide in safety and socio-economic systems as well as social infrastructures that put at high risks the very central people that Governments and multiple Institutions are meant to protect and create conditions for their advancement.

In Africa, like in many other parts of the world, women ( young and senior) are already at the forefront of fighting COVID-19. Data indicate that at least 70% of the workforce in the health and social sectors are women. Yet, very few sit where decisions are taken on how to respond to the pandemic and the design of the post-COVID 19 strategies.

COVID-19 is a threat to the security of women and girls, and to the security of communities, as recognized by the AU Peace and Security Council In its 918th meeting.

As Governments scrambled to put in place measures to contain the spread of the virus, it quickly emerged that places meant to be safe for women and girls became traps for violence and abuse, with a dramatic spike in sexual violence, to the extent of being called “Shadow pandemic” by my sister Phumzile and the entity she heads, UN Women.

Women in refugee and IDP camps are at high risk of being forgotten as resources are rechannelled to fighting COVID-19. They live in overcrowded conditions where social distance is a challenge and the distribution of protective equipment comes last, while they continue to have little say in the distribution of humanitarian assistance.

Coupled to the economic deprivation, as Women constitute the majority of those in the informal economy and have lost incomes to cater for themselves, their families and communities, COVID-19 impact has the face of women. 


We have all seen data showing that countries led by women seem to have done better in handling the COVID-19 crises. While the numbers at the top levels are small, Women-led organizations did not wait for resources to address the consequences of this pandemic.  They

mobilized to distribute food, make sensitization campaigns, produce masks, etc….

A concrete example is the mobilization of the 25 National chapters of the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN). We held a virtual conference with them on 28 May 2020, in which many shared the various activities they were undertaking to fight COVID-19.

These efforts were the result of solidarity and unity of purpose.  From past pandemics, Africa has learned that no one beats pandemic and crises on their own. It is through solidarity-chains, the creation of platforms and confidence-building that women-led organizations deliver.

I believe that key elements that have emerged from the crisis, are the leadership and the resilience of women and their ability to steer responses that are community sensitive.

Experience also taught Africa that lasting solutions are grounded on community’s involvement and embracement. Our search for solutions must take holistic approaches, look at root causes and are grounded in Human security.

Another area in which I see an opportunity within the crisis, is I see opportunity is Technology and Innovation.  

Despite the many strains of the accelerated digitalisation that has happened because of the pandemic (low bandwidth, instability, power interruptions. ..)  I think we also need to recognise how the digital drive has helped empower women. It has offered a variety of opportunities for women empowerment and equal participation of women in various activities. Staying at home and working from home can help make women more flexible in the labour market allowing them to plan their time around other domestic demands, which remain by and large their responsibility.

In conclusion, as we strive to build back better, we need to put human rights and the protection of women and girls at the Centre of COVID-19 responses and the post-COVID recovery enterprise, to ensure a better tomorrow that truly caters for people and communities. Three key areas need our utmost attention:

  • Participation and leadership of women in decision-making spheres
  • Include women organizations in the fiscal stimulus and packages to ensure that their actions are not sidelined
  • Adopt a Human security lens with investments in social and peace infrastructures that enable citizens and communities to prevent the eruption of crises and to define adapted solutions when faced with threats to their security and livelihoods.

Thank you