28 May 2020

Women Leaders Take Action for Women and Children During COVID-19

Women leaders from countries including Estonia, Costa Rica, and Senegal (full list below) convened to take action to highlight the unique challenges faced by women and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meeting at a high-level roundtable event organized by Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) alongside The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) and Women Deliver, these leaders delved into the unique needs and expertise of women during this time, as they are on the frontlines as first responders, health professionals, community volunteers, caregivers and more. They shared the specific actions they have taken to guarantee life-saving services for the most vulnerable, such as information-sharing programs targeted toward women.

Due to pre-existing systematic inequality, women, children and adolescents are bearing the heaviest brunt of the pandemic’s impact. Now, projections predict that over the next six months there may be:

● An increase in child deaths amounting to 6,000 a day over the next six months
● 80 million children under one at risk of diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio
● 31 million cases of gender-based violence
● 47 million women could lose access to contraception
● 7 million additional unintended pregnancies
● 56,700 more maternal deaths could also occur in just six months (in addition to the 144,000
deaths that already take place in the same countries over a six-month period)

“COVID-19 is not the great leveller, but rather the great amplifier of inequality. That gives us a clear duty to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and to address the root causes of inequality. We must act now—while the storm is raging—or be ashamed by the number of lives swept away on our watch,” said Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Board Chair of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health,in an op-ed published before the event. The op-ed was co-authored by President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid, Mexico’s Secretary of Health Jorge Alcocer Varela, and Graca Machel, the founder of the Graca Machel Trust.

The leaders agreed that these dire projections do not need to come to fruition. Unlike in the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, the world already has effective vaccines for common and deadly childhood diseases, effective, modern contraception, and the know-how to prevent maternal death. This situation is truly about political will and a willingness to invest to save lives, leaders said. “If something positive can stem from this pandemic, it is the wider acceptance of the importance of global communal goods—fighting climate change, providing healthcare and supporting the most vulnerable in society. We are not safe unless everyone is safe,” said President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia. “The pandemic hopefully inspires us to think differently and also act quickly.”

The United Nations has advocated for a large-scale response that is coordinated, comprehensive, guided by facts, with an emphasis on solidarity towards developing countries and which complements a humanitarian response. At today’s roundtable, leaders committed to taking action to address the devastating social and economic impact of the pandemic and to ultimately build back economies and societies that are stronger and more resilient than before.

The event was co-convened by Ms. Kaljulaid and Ms. Clark, and moderated by Pamela Falk of CBS
News. Participants included:

● Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, (via video message)
● Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada,
● Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice President of Costa Rica,
● Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State to the President of the Republic of Senegal and
member of the High-Level Steering Group for EWEC
● Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President, Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and member of the
High-Level Steering Group for EWEC
● Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF,
● Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
● Katja Iversen, President and CEO of Women Deliver
● Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth
● Gerda Verburg, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and Assistant
Secretary-General
● Mary-Ann Etiebet, Lead and Executive Director of Merck for Mothers
● Amy Pollack, Director of Maternal, Newborn & Child Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation (BMGF)

At the end of the Roundtable, the leaders took to social media, to challenge their peers to protect and
support every woman, child and adolescent and to make sure that their unique expertise is leveraged.
Leaders, organizations and members of civil society around the world have begun issuing their
commitment via social media with @UN_EWEC tagged and the hashtag #RiseForAll while calling on their
fellow leaders and partners to do the same.

“We must ensure that the pandemic does not push more women and children into poverty, or further
restrict their opportunities,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a video message. “Plans to
respond and recover from the pandemic must prioritize their human rights, protect them from domestic
violence and ensure access to services that support health, reproductive rights, access to clean water
and sanitation, mental health, and education.”

COVID-19 is a clarion call for action: It urges us to address critical gaps in primary health care, build
stronger partnerships for action, and leave no one behind. The survival, health and well-being, and
leadership of women, children and adolescents is essential to ending extreme poverty, promoting
development and resilience, and on delivering on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Watch the livestream here.