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Expanding Equality Initiative: Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Poverty, Inequality & Unemployment

In 2020, the Graca Machel marks it’s 10-year anniversary by launching the Expanding Equality Initiative, which aims to catalyse and drive collective action that advances women’s active roles and contributions in the economy and fast track the realisation of children’s rights, with emphasis on girls. GMT launches this initiative in partnership with its 7 powerful Networks who share our ambition and invest their actions to power the ideals of the initiative. It is however, a year where the globe faces an unprecedented crisis, of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled economies, and directed global attention to saving lives, and shoring up strained health systems in responding to the pandemic.

It is therefore apt, that as we prepare to launch the Expanding Equality initiative, and in line with its goals to inspire collective action and fight inequality at its roots, the Trust, in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will lead a series of critical engagements, to shape the policy discourse of the response, by amplifying the voices and share experiences of African women and children across the continent, through and with its Networks.

ILIZWI (The Voice): African Women and Girls Shaping the Policy Discourse of the COVID-19 pandemic response

The vision of the Graca Machel Trust is to nurture caring societies that value social justice, promote and protect the rights of women and children. Now more than ever before, the tenets of this vision resonate strongly at a time when globally, the world has been literally upended, as we fight through the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on social and economic life in the present; and eventually, as we course to a time of recovery and post recovery period in the future. The Trust has a wide reach, as a network builder, and advocate for women and children’s rights, with its sector-based Women’s Networks and strategic alliances across 16 countries in Africa.

What has the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified? - National, regional and global responses, have amplified the glaring inequalities that exist in societies, the fault lines between the markets and states, and related structural problems that pose significant problems for the health, social protection and economic responses required to save lives, provide welfare for the most vulnerable whose livelihoods have been wiped away, and support for those tittering on the brink of economic ruin; as economies are reeling globally. This has and will further exacerbate social and gender inequalities that have dominantly affected the lives of women and children in Africa.

What responses are unfolding thus far? - While many countries in Africa are working to put in place economic and social relief packages, the inherent structural and gendered inequalities, as well as fault lines between the state and market; exacerbated by neoliberal influenced policy frameworks, pose risks for the efficacy of these responses, with regulations that recognise and allow for trading of formal essential service businesses, but not so much informal traders, in economies where 70% of economically active operate, as an example. In countries where the response times and quality of care in private health institutions is incomparable to the under resourced public sector that  which serve the bulk of populations, it is evident, that universal health coverage and health insurance, are key priorities that have been inadvertently pushed to the very top of the policy agenda.

As the Graca Machel Trust, we recognise this time of crisis, are deeply concerned of the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of women and children; and appreciate efforts where states and the private sector have rallied in response to the pandemic; where both scripted and unscripted policy solutions, and timely action is critical to saving lives.

What we must not lose sight of? - It remains vital, that the shared lived experiences and realities of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic are shared, amplified, recognised and drawn on, to inform responses that have impact in addressing the immediate, but also future, and fundamental structural issues in the recovery period and beyond.  

This crisis presents an opportunity for duty bearers, key decision makers and stakeholders, to drive state led social and economic responses that expand opportunities for equality and bridge the divide in our societies. It has demonstrated the decisive action capable from states in putting the citizens first; the resources that can be unlocked, though far from what is required, to address fundamental social and economic needs where required.

What we seek to contribute to the response? - The Graca Machel Trust will lead in amplifying the voices of women and children through shared experiences of women in the economy acknowledging that the intersectionality of the facets of women’s lives extends beyond their role as key economic players at family, community, local, national, regional, continental and global level. We will facilitate a series of key engagements, to amplify the voices, and stories behind the national, regional and global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GMT will implement a communications push that collates and amplifies the shared experiences of women and children at the forefront of the discourse and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, from which we will put forward our 5 policy asks to state, regional institutions, and key stakeholders, to ensure the immediate, short-term responses and re-investments, are responsive to the needs of women  and children in the economy, and repositions for the advancement of gender equality and the contributions of women in economic development, in line with the African Union led Agenda 2063 Aspiration to build transformed and inclusive economies, and to promote gender equality in all spheres of life (SDG 5). 

What we will do? -   

Timeline: 6 April – 31 May 2020




    1. Daily snippets of voices from the African continent

Key quotations and from our network members, capturing their experiences and perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their lives as individuals, and as communities living through the shared experience. This will be tagged with profile pictures of our Network members, to put faces to the experiences of the pandemic.


    1. Bi-weekly Instagram Live Conversations


GMT will engage with women and children from all sectors and backgrounds to lead impactful conversation abouts what this new global reality of COVID 19 has meant for their lives. These will include 50-minute-long, bi-weekly casual conversations on Instagram using the Instagram LIVE feature

Mpilo & Caroline

    1. Weekly Column inches

Weekly write ups of the key thematic contributions and vivid experiences drawn for wider sharing on our social media platforms; press releases, newspaper columns etc. This will include (blogs, story nuggets, video series and voice soundbites)


    1. Fortnightly webinars


These will be cluster/sector focused, drawing on the lived realities of women in the various key economic sectors in several African countries, regional partners and stakeholders


    1. Field Findings

Survey and analysis of national and regional response plans:

  • Gender mainstreaming
  • Relevance to need
  • Accessibility for women and girls

GMT Country Chapters have engage with local populations in conversations to register their feelings and expectations. Such an approach will enable the informing of inclusive policies that meet the needs of and are responsive to the population.


    1. Three formal submissions



The Trust will compile and submit formal communication with 5 policy asks to national governments and regional economic communities.

These will include

  1. Formal letter on the COVID-19 responses 
  • Women and the economy;
  • Children and social protection, with emphasis on girls

ii) A publication on the shared experiences of women and children

iii) Position paper/Op-Ed on the opportunities for transformative policy agendas from the COVID-19 response to recovery.


What then beyond the COVID-19 emergency phase and towards the Decade of Action to the 2030 SDG milestone? -

The above initiative, will build into GMT’s Expanding Equality Initiative, a 10-year collaborative action and advocacy forum and movement, that aims to build an strengthen ecosystems for enhancing equality to ensure women and children are at the heart of Africa’s development agenda and Agenda 2063’s aspirations, primarily to:

Amplify policy actions that break structural barriers

    • To move the continent forward and catalyse social justice and equality for women and children (knowledge building and thought leadership)

Convene and connect multisectoral and intergenerational collectives, networks and citizens

    • Connect most impacted by the challenges alongside those with the political and economic power to co-create and deliver actions (GMT Networks & ecosystems for growth)

Advance strategic policy priorities critical to building a strong socio-economic framework for acceleration of action

    • Women’s economic advancement, children’s holistic development, nutrition as a development priority (Advocacy and leadership).

The COVID-19 pandemic emboldens the ambitions of the Expanding Equality Initiative, and while it promotes social distancing as a key prevention strategy against the spread of the virus, it magnifies the interconnectedness of global economies and policy responses required not only to fight the pandemic, but looking to the future, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals agenda by 2030.