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Elevating women in the age of coronavirus


(Image by Darko Stojanovic from Pixabay)


As the world adapts to the virus, new ideas are needed to keep gender on the agenda


By: Maria Ebrahimji and Nicole Schiegg, Partners, C5 Collective


(This op-ed originally appeared in Apolitical's 'Gender Equality. 5 Days. 50 Ideas’ series)


The spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is raising alarm and causing anxiety around the world.

In this light, it's not a big surprise that we are seeing many large events and conferences that opt for a virtual format, rather than gathering hundreds or even thousands of people in one room. Some of these events can be rescheduled, but for some of these events, the timing is critical and part of a larger narrative arc this year.


In particular, the 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which takes place this month in New York, has been reduced to a shorter meeting and will now only take care of procedural issues. It will forego an ambitious schedule of formal proceedings and side events by the Member States, not to mention a review of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.


This was the declaration from the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing that was held 25 years ago. At this conference, governments from around the world agreed on a comprehensive plan to achieve global legal equality. CSW could ultimately be rescheduled, but what’s at stake in postponing or shortening these moments is the momentum and energy needed to advance gender equality this year.


Advocates were depending on a drumbeat of activities leading into pivotal events like the Women and Girls Summit in Durban in June and the Gender Equality Forum in Paris in July, which also has the prospect of being postponed


Gender leadership from home


In an increasingly complex world, we need to be ready to change course while keeping our original mission in mind. At the women-led global consulting firm C5 Collective, we believe gender equality is a prerequisite for a better planet and world. So how do we effectively move this agenda forward?


The concept of virtual meetings or a remote workplace is not new to us. We believe remote offices benefit women who wish to pursue their career and raise a family at the same time. It also allows for greater creativity with passion projects, personal travel, and volunteer activities.


While we hope and pray for a swift response to the outbreak, we will continue to leverage the communications platforms and tactics available to elevate women’s thought leadership and advance gender equality on the world stage

Two years ago, we launched the C5 Collective. From digital media and social impact campaigns to storytelling and thought leadership events, our goal was to design programs and initiatives that elevate women and girls as well as advance public and social policies around the world. The four founding partners are in different time zones and rarely in the same room. We do not have a physical office space and rely on daily interactions in regions around the world. The ability to be able to work and collaborate virtually has allowed for flexibility in our own schedules and has reduced the distractions of working or commuting to an office space.


However, with any non-traditional approach, there are challenges. For instance, virtual interaction doesn’t allow us to read body language or to take advantage of those very important “hallway” conversations.


We believe the lessons from our day-to-day interaction could provide a playbook on how to make virtual events, especially those seeking to advance gender equality, a success.


1. Turn your camera on


One way to improve communication is to turn on the video function when conducting a meeting or event. It is harder for someone to multitask or let their mind wander if they are on camera.

We would also encourage more focused, outcome-oriented meetings. Too often we preach to the converted and plan events that don’t lead to actionable change. In the case of progress towards gender equality, Action Coalitions of partners are focused on a set of concrete, ambitious, and transformative actions that will be taken between 2020 and 2025.


Virtual events and interaction could provide an important platform for mutual accountability.


2. Don’t get bogged down in you inbox


Another way to remove barriers from virtual communication is to use a cross-platform messaging service like WhatsApp and workspaces like Slack.


Moving away from emails will help organize conversations and allow for an informal way to converse with colleagues. Again, using the gender equality movement as an example, Action Coalitions could have their own threads.


This is similar to how the Alliance for Gender Equality and Universal Health Coverage interacts, which is a coalition of more than 100 organizations from more than 45 countries. However, translation is consistently an issue. This challenge provides an opportunity for a donor to support a team of translators who could be readily available to civil society and other stakeholders.


Rethinking work


We recognize these tools of the trade are not available to everyone, especially those in low-resource settings. Access to technology has allowed us to build a business from scratch and to help build social movements. Given the advances in making technology more affordable, we believe that all global citizens should have the ability to be entrepreneurs and to contribute towards achieving the global sustainable development goals.


In the two years we’ve been in business, this virtual model has been successful for us and now we’re expanding our network. Our new “C5 Collaborative”* is a group of preferred experts who add knowledge, skills, and expertise to our core capabilities. All of the brilliant women joining this uniquely curated cohort of professionals have incredible track records in their respective fields. We believe they will offer our firm and our clients fresh perspectives and novel solutions.


While we hope and pray for a swift response to the #COVID19 outbreak, we will continue to leverage the communications platforms and tactics available to elevate women’s thought leadership and advance gender equality on the world stage.


This may require challenging traditional notions of what an office or an event looks like, but the mission cannot take a break.  It is more important now than ever to achieve measurable change and to ensure that no one is left behind.


*The first members of the C5 Collaborative include: social media strategist and content producer, Alanna Bass; corporate communications leader and executive coach, Aimee Baxter; former CNN Producer and event planning consultant, Kay Jones Davis; global health and communications expert, Amy Fowler; television news producer and content strategist, Cicily Scott; and former CNN Producer and media relations consultant, Susan Toffler.


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