As the newest Sigma United Nations Liaison, I was excited to attend the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), my first event at the UN Headquarters in New York City. I made my reservations and mapped out my agenda. Participants from around the globe, including all of my new UN Liaison colleagues, would be in attendance. The 12-day event promised multiple opportunities to network, gather information, and raise our collective voices to highlight the contributions of nurses toward promoting gender equality and advancing the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs).
Sigma has had a significant presence at past CSW events and was scheduled to host two parallel sessions this year. I was particularly looking forward to the presentation, “What Do We Teach Our Daughters? Nurses, Women, and Prosperity.” I have four children and now three grandchildren of my own, and I am very aware that daughters learn a lot about gender equality from their mothers.
Although the right decision, I was extremely disappointed when CWS 64 was canceled due to travel restrictions and stay at home recommendations related to COVID-19. I felt like I missed an opportunity to contribute to raising the status of women worldwide. But the past few months has given me more time to reflect on the actions that nurses and moms can do from home to promote gender equality and empower women across the globe. I strongly believe that small local actions contribute to large scale, global changes!
While at home, I can commit to learning more about gender inequities and the impact to global health. I tuned in for the CSW 64 opening statement delivered via videoconference by the Executive Director of UN Women. I now subscribe to the UN Women listserv to receive weekly news updates via email, and I liked the UN Women social media pages so that current events related to gender equality pass through my newsfeed. Following these updates, I’ve learned the stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things to advance women’s rights.
I can use my social media platforms and other virtual venues to raise awareness of gender inequities both locally and globally. Women make up 90% of the global nursing workforce and are disproportionately on the frontline and at greater personal risk in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, stay at home orders and social isolation put women at an increased risk for domestic violence. I share images and prescripted posts from the UN Women social media kit to highlight gender equality issues.
Support women in the workforce
Even without the challenges of fighting a global pandemic, women face daily struggles of lower-paid, less secure jobs. Both at home and abroad, women serve unequally in unpaid roles as caregivers of the family. And women are more likely to be employed in jobs that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns, such as the service and hospitality industries. I decided to continue paying my hairstylist for “virtual haircuts” in lieu of the regularly scheduled appointments I’ve missed because I know, on a very small scale, its one way I can continued to support women in the workforce. On a more global scale, I contribute to microloans that fund small business startups for companies owned by women in more resource limited countries. For example, a microloan through the United Methodist Church helped women start a palm oil business in Ghana.
Practice at home
Modeling practices at home and in my daily life that reflect gender equality has become increasingly important to me, even though my children are adults and no longer live at home. Domestic chores are shared. Our language and conversations with family and friends demonstrate our belief that everyone should have equal access to educational and employment opportunities. We are not tolerant of comments that are demeaning to anyone. In recent years, I listen more to my daughters and learn about the inequities they face as they navigate the world. I’m still learning every day. Just recently, I came across coloring pages designed to help parents raise feminist children. I’m going to print some out and share them with my granddaughter once we are able to visit again. I think it will spark some good conversations!
I’m looking forward to my first face to face event as a Sigma UN Liaison, hopefully soon. But, until then, I’ll continue to seek ways to promote the SDGs while keeping closer to home!
Janice E. Hawkins, PhD, RN, clinical associate professor and undergraduate departmental adviser at Old Dominion University School of Nursing in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, is a retired Army nurse. In addition to being a Sigma UN Liaison, she is a member of Sigma’s Epsilon Chi Chapter at Old Dominion University.