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by Donna Haghighat, CEO, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts

Twenty-five years ago, women from around the world gathered at the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China. What emerged from that conference was a Platform for Action that captured not just a framework of factors against which to measure progress, but aspirational goals.

Measuring the progress of the Platform for Action may seem ill-timed as in this last of these 25 years we find the world devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the pandemic itself is its morbid measuring stick. Acting as a contrast dye injected into the global body to illuminate the presence of persistent, pervasive, and toxic inequities that continue to hold women and girls, and particularly those of color, back.

As countless others have pointed out, this pandemic has laid bare the disparities between identity groups–identities formed by gender, race, class–and the everyday sexism, racism, or classism that reinforces them. Beyond that, the pandemic is not just laying bare these disparities, it is adding a toll to these inequities by leaving the most vulnerable who nevertheless manage to survive the disease, with serious and chronic complications. Those who have been vulnerable to housing insecurity, poor or no healthcare access, food apartheid, occupational insecurity, and educational inequality will be subjected to more marginalization with the lasting physical and psychological effects of surviving COVID-19.

While none of us has the full picture of the true impact of COVID-19 on progress for women and girls, early data and the knowledge of how other diseases such as Ebola dampened progress in some regions is very concerning. Perhaps it is best at this juncture to ask, “what was the progress of equity for the world’s women and girls as a snapshot just before this pandemic?” and “how does the early data show how badly the pandemic is affecting or is likely to affect equity for women and girls?”

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts is hosting a conversation with global experts that will discuss these implications on September 11, 2020. Pivoting off the Fourth World Conference on Women’s Platform for Action, the conversation will focus on Peace, Power, and Prosperity for the world’s women and girls. This virtual event will feature a conversation with Silke Staab, Research Specialist at UN Women, Dr. Valerie M. Hudson, Author, Professor, and expert on national security policy and gender, and Dr. Kathleen Szegda, Director of Community Research and Evaluation at the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. These prominent experts will speak to the progress toward peace, power, and prosperity for women, girls, and thus for communities. Details about the event and speakers can be found at

Why would a regional women’s fund host a global conversation about women and girls? It is in the DNA of our fund. Our fund’s creation was inspired by our three founders’ attendance at the Beijing conference. They left feeling so catalyzed by what other women were doing around the world that they resolved to mobilize regional resources to affect change for local women and girls. Interestingly, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation has a similar origin story.

Like U.N. Women, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts has invested in data collection to understand challenges, opportunities, and progress against its strategic priorities. The September 11th event will provide opportunities for our fund, other women’s funds and organizations whose mission it is to advance gender and racial justice to understand what has transpired since the Beijing conference and reframe our work for the future. This crucial moment, particularly with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, makes our work more critical than ever.

by Leah Martin Photography

Cover Photo: UN Women’s Unlocking Multiple Benefits for Women and Girls through Sanitation and Hygiene in the post-2015 Era Session by Susan Markisz via Flickr