Gender Equity in Higher Education During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reshaped our society. In the rush to manage this health and economic crisis, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this will have a gendered impact extending beyond the initial crisis period. The United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres brought attention to the gendered impact of COVID-19 on 10 April 2020, calling for urgent and immediate action. He stated that the pandemic is having “devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls” and urged governments and institutions to put gender issues at the centre of COVID-19 responses.

Early analysis confirms a need to address indicators that women are facing deep social and economic effects from the pandemic (e.g., UN Policy Brief, The Lancet, and Broad Agenda). Both the UN and the Australian Human Rights Commission have suggested that the impact on women stands to undo decades of progress towards gender equality and poses an amplified risk of gendered violence.

One of the many challenges the COVID-19 global pandemic has created for the tertiary education sector is ensuring that the significant advancements in gender equity are not lost amid the crisis.

In the face of this challenge, Western Sydney University has led a joint sector position statement  committed to preserving gender equity. The University is committed to considering the impact on women when planning our short, medium and long-term responses to COVID-19.

Western led a group of senior equity practitioners from across Australia’s universities to develop the position statement to preserve gender equity as a priority across the sector.

In a recent media statement about the joint sector position, Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover said:

“The joint statement is a significant commitment from the Australian higher education sector to demonstrate leadership in this time of crisis, ensuring they consider the impact on women when planning and implementing their short, medium and long-term responses to COVID-19”.

In the spirit of this shared commitment, Western Sydney University has installed new measures to monitor and where needed respond quickly to arising gendered impacts of COVID within the organisation. We also continue to lead the Higher Education Senior Practitioners Advisory Group on Gender and COVID-19 on sector-wide steps to preserve gender equity as a higher education priority during and after the pandemic.