An Exciting experience I want to share!
After anxiously waiting for my deployment following our pre deployment training in Cairo, Egypt, I was recruited by the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate (WGYD) based at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to become the Advocacy Officer in the Coordination and Outreach Division. I was over the moon not only would I be working in a totally new African region but the feminist in me couldn’t be more pleased with the directorate I had landed in!
The process of planning to go to Ethiopia was already in full swing. Then, COVID-19 Pandemic hit. With all the uncertainty and fear surrounding the disease and the rising numbers of deaths per country per day, we were eventually virtually on boarded to begin work.
I must admit I was looking forward to the day we would be told that we would be moving to regular working routine requiring us to be in office. But the more time passed, the worse the pandemic became, and it was clear that, we would be working from home for a very long time. But this gave an opportunity to be innovative in achieving the 2063 Agenda.
The benefits of taking this assignment were in twofold. First and foremost, I learned a lot from the team meetings and how projects were discussed and implemented. In our virtual meetings there was plenty of room to ask questions and propose new ideas. Despite the fact I had never met any of my colleagues in person, the atmosphere was very collaborative and supportive.
Secondly and most importantly was the inspiration I received from all the work we did with women from all across the African Continent. In my very first week I had the opportunity to attend a high level webinar with Ministers of Gender from all across Africa as they discussed enhancing Women Leadership on COVID-19 Reponses. Within my very first month, I soon realised that while technological solutions have played an essential role in creating and facilitating business during the pandemic, WGYD alongside partners were on the forefront supporting Member States, RECs, CSO’s, technical staff and High-level decision makers to collaborate on gender and innovation opportunities, the lack of equitable access to financial services and unfavourable regulatory environments that often prevent and discourage women from realizing their full potential particularly as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The rise of the pandemic in African countries meant several women and girls could no longer go to work or school and were confined in their homes due to the implementation of the ‘stay at home’ regulation to curb the spread of COVID-19. As a result, the continent saw a disturbing rise in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) - also known as a shadow pandemic - and other obstacles towards attaining the empowerment of women and girls. As “gender inequalities intensified especially for the poorest girls and adolescents, they faced a greater risk of early and forced marriage, sexual abuse and unintended pregnancy.” Despite the alarming figures that prove that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, most of the information that has been produced regarding COVID-19 have failed to reflect the aforementioned.
WGYD was one of the first to identify the urgent need for a gender-inclusive approaches to combating COVID-19. Without a gender-responsive response to COVID-19, achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world would come with its challenges. As COVID-19 continues to pose as a threat against any progress made towards Gender Equality Women Empowerment (GEWE), the African Union’s recently adopted framework document on the impact of COVID-19 on GEWE entitled African Union’s Guidelines on gender Responsive Responses to COVID-19, which is a comprehensive document entailing all the tools member states can use in ensuring GEWE even whilst combatting COVID-19. Essentially, it is a robust document that enables “a gendered lens to COVID-19 responses will improve outcomes for not only women but all people affected by the virus and contribute to saving lives in Africa.”
The level of engagement during my year with the Directorate was a true testament to the commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as all the work put in towards the inclusion of women in decision making processes particularly during the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond.
This journey was a fulfilling one. My advice to anyone thinking about applying for such an opportunity is, let's go help others! What is in your own control, are the small steps you take towards every day to make a change along your journey of life, even if it is from the desk in your room at home. No contribution is ever too small.
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