The time immediately following a crisis, whether it be a peace process, rebuilding after a natural disaster or seeing a new government come into power, creates a window of opportunity to reimagine what the next phase of life can look like. When the status quo has been upended, there is a feeling that “normal” can be redesigned. With COVID-19, this opportunity seems more pressing than ever before as the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that have made the “old normal” not work for so many, particularly women. In every country, women face gender discrimination and often times, this intersects with other forms of inequity stemming from disability, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, creating additional barriers for accessing services, education, and employment. The surging Black Lives Matter movement around the globe has thrown into stark relief just how critically important it is, especially for women, and particularly women of color, that we do not just get back to “normal,” but that we actively build back better.
For women and girls living in humanitarian contexts, building back better—and taking into account multiple factors of oppression and discrimination—is critical. Through the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) nearly 90 years of humanitarian work, we know that women and girls continue to be disadvantaged in terms of access to education, employment, healthcare, safety, and more. COVID-19 has brought increased rhetoric around the different ways women and girls experience a crisis, yet we are still seeing old patterns being repeated, particularly in the absence of gender analysis, disaggregated data, and dedicated funding to support the most vulnerable, despite highlevel calls to action. As countries begin to reopen, we cannot sacrifice the necessary changes for the comfort of the familiar. The time is far past to have difficult conversations, to employ feminist approaches, and to use COVID-19, as terrible as it continues to be, as an opportunity to truly change the status quo for all women and girls.