The Puggle: March 2020 edition

This unprecedented time of the COVID-19 global pandemic has us reflecting on leadership and how strong leadership is more important than ever in a crisis. The World Health Organization is doing their part to focus the response to the crisis on facts, not fears. We appreciate their guidance that “Evidence clearly shows that stigma and fear around communicable diseases hamper the response. What works is building trust in reliable health services and advice, showing empathy with those affected, understanding the disease itself, and adopting effective, practical measures so people can help keep themselves and their loved ones safe.” 

We are doing our best to be supportive of our grantees as priorities, timelines, and budgets change this year. One good resource that tracks the status of COVID-19 around the world is this interactive, web-based dashboard developed by The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Also, check out Resources for Nonprofits in responding to this crisis, Philanthropy U’s resources to help your community stay safe and navigate COVID-19, and a running list of resources and current reporting on gender and gender data as they relate to COVID19 preparedness and response around the world. One great example of offering advice to key leaders, namely Ministers of Education, is this open letter written by Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares which highlights six things that a minister of education should consider as they manage the impact of COVID-19 on their school systems.

From an education perspective, COVID-19 has already prompted the most wide-spread disruption to education in immediate history. As of March 27th, UNESCO reported that 165 countries have closed schools. More than 1.5B learners have been affected and that number is likely to rise. As researchers at the Center for Global Development point out, school closures pose a significant cost to society and individual children. “In fragile states the adverse effects of school closure can be devastating: disruption of education can leave children at risk of child labour, early marriage, sexual exploitation, and even recruitment into militias.” Existing inequities are likely to be exacerbated as some parents can supplement instruction and provide adequate childcare for their children while schools are closed and others cannot. Researchers at Brookings point out the gaps in emergency preparedness in school systems around the world. It will be a while before we know the full impact of these closures — both positive and negative, but we’ll be tracking events as closely.

Given we are also in the middle of presidential election year here in the U.S., there is a lot of focus on political leadership. We have been particularly interested in how gender biases show up in politics and elections. According to the newly launched UN Development Programme’s Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI), about half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders. 

GSNI is the first of its kind gender social norms index and measures how social beliefs obstruct gender equality in areas like politics, work, and education, and contains data from 75 countries, covering over 80 percent of the world’s population. The analysis reveals that despite decades of progress closing the equality gap between men and women, close to 90 percent of men and women hold some sort of bias against women. GSNI puts a lot of numbers behind the persistent challenges we have all been reflecting on during International Women’s day that women are facing in the fight for equality – such as, over 40 percent feel that men make better business executives and that men have more of a right to a job when jobs are scarce, and 28 percent think it is justified for a man to beat his wife. Despite remarkable progress in some areas, GSNI shows that  no country in the world—rich or poor—has achieved gender equality. Will the pandemic reinforce these biases or will it create an opportunity for change?

We are also sad, although fully understanding, about the need to cancel the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) annual conference this month as it is usually a place for many of our grantees to contribute their leadership in the international education sector. It is one of our most cherished and busiest weeks of the year for us at Echidna Giving, where we get the pleasure of connecting with so many of our grantees and seeing them take center stage presenting on their important work and learnings. A few highlights from the dialogue we hope still continue in other ways this year in our international education sector are:

And, as we are all staying closer to home these days, check out the Fundamental. Gender Justice. No exceptions. films series featuring documentary films about what it really is like being a feminist leader today. This is a collaboration of Global Fund for Women and the Academy Award winning Director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy who shares, “From Brazil and the United States to Kenya, Pakistan, and Georgia, these inspiring activists refuse to accept the status quo, agitating and organizing to create safe spaces, and a more just world for others. It is my hope that the series will inspire viewers to learn more about these issues, and join the fight for gender justice alongside these incredible activists.” There may be some opportunities that arise from these exceptionally challenging times. Possibly a more diverse group of actors will step into leadership roles, maybe priorities will be examined and empathy will play a larger role in decision making, and the value of education will be reinforced as it becomes evident how vital truth, facts, and science are to saving lives. Just maybe young girls are being inspired by the hardships around them to pursue science and medicine if we can just ensure they get the education they need. 

Stay well.