I have been thinking a lot about social justice in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and persistent racial injustice here in the United States. As I think about what needs to be done, I am drawn to recollections of what women who look like me have done in the past to combat social injustice. African American women in this country have a long and significant history of influence in support of racial equality and women’s rights movements. Paula Giddings chronicles black women’s contributions in her seminal work, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, which has served as a guidepost for me as I work around the world to promote women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment.

A key passage in the book reads, “Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole … race enters with me.’” This passage means a lot to me. It suggests that as I pass through rooms and places, I enter as a woman and I enter black and I know I will experience, bias, discrimination, injustice—even violence—and I must and will, as the women before me, speak truth to power, advocate for progressive change, and promote equitable solutions.

COVID-19 has turned the rooms and places people of color and diverse backgrounds enter into a more severe danger zone. The pandemic has layered another dimension on top of the existing legal, socio-cultural, and economic factors that reinforce gender inequality and social exclusion here at home and around the world. Domestic violence has increased. People of color, the elderly, and young children make up a disproportionate percentage of those who die from the disease. Members of the working class and people living in poverty are more likely to be essential workers, who are dangerously exposed to the virus on a daily basis and are less likely to have access to or afford healthcare and treatment. Response to the pandemic is inadequate and absent for many people around the world who are living with disabilities, are ethnic, racial, and/or religious minorities, or are of varying gender identities or sexual orientation.

A Summit to Explore COVID-19, Gender Inequality, and Social Exclusion

Like the women who came before us, we must shape the rooms and places we enter. I am so pleased that EnCompass is co-sponsoring the Gender 360 Summit: 2020 Virtual Series with FHI 360 on June 9. because this year’s topic is how COVID-19 has worsened gender inequality and social exclusion. Co-hosted by Chemonics, Counterpart, Cultural Practice LLC, IESC, MenEngage Alliance, Pact, Save the Children, and Women for Women International, the virtual summit will feature a global panel of experts who—through an intersectional lens—will talk about how people with different identities and those facing multiple layers of marginalization are navigating the challenges and opportunities of COVID-19. Panelists will examine gender-based violence, domestic violence and safeguarding, economic empowerment and the burden of care, access to sexual and reproductive health services, and educational access for marginalized children and young people, including those with disabilities.

The virtual event includes opportunities for participants to weigh in with their own recommendations through breakout groups on women’s economic empowerment, gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) resiliency, health and education, gender-based violence, measuring GESI, and the changing landscape of international development and humanitarian aid.

If you can, join us for this sixth annual Gender 360 Summit to learn more about how COVID-19 and the response are worsening gender inequality and social exclusion and to add your voice to offer ideas for what can be done to put an end to injustice, inequality, and exclusion in response to the pandemic.

Help me honor the brave women throughout U.S. history who entered rooms and places in their full diversity and left those rooms and places transformed. Let us use our diversity and voice to transform governments, donors, international NGOs, the organizations where we work, and ourselves. When and where I enter, I will work to change the world for good. I hope you will, too.

Let’s Start a Dialogue for Social Change

I invite those of you reading this blog to share your recommendations for things that should be done to bring effective COVID-19 responses to all and to eliminate the norms and structures that perpetuate inequality and exclusion. Please comment below, tweet us @EnCompass_World, comment on EnCompass’ LinkedIn page or Facebook page and tag EnCompass LLC in your post.