Let’s Now Build A 21st Century Economy That Truly Achieves Racial and Gender Equality

By: Gabriela Bucher, Oxfam International Executive Director

Jennifer Sunthia, 24, teaching at the Palabek Refugee Settlement in Uganda Credit: Emmanuel Museruka/Oxfam

We are longing for hope.

Were we not lifted around the world listening to the poetry of Amanda Gorman at the recent Presidential inauguration in the United States? “For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it” she told us.

I feel hope listening to women like Hindou Ibrahim, an indigenous leader and member of the Mbororo people in Chad making people rethink their relationship with nature and fighting climate breakdown.

I think of countless people around the world giving us hope. Look at what happens when young people are given a chance to reshape our world.

And then comes the reality check. And I see the countless barriers pushing us all back — and specific groups of people especially — that COVID-19 is exposing more than ever.

Did you know that far more than a hundred million women wouldn’t be at risk of losing their jobs right now, if men and women were equally represented in low-pay sectors hit hard by COVID-19?

Or that twenty million secondary school-aged girls may never return to the classroom after COVID-19? That is more than the entire population of New York, or Beijing.

Did you know that twenty-two thousand Black and Hispanic people in the USA would still be alive today — if their COVID-19 mortality rates were just the same as their White counterparts?

Or that if you’re an Afro-descendent in Brazil, you’re 40 percent more likely to die of COVID-19 than a White person?

Behind these numbers are tragedies of lost loved ones, heartbreak to families and our communities.

But these numbers also tell a story that goes to the heart of our modern-day economy, that we can no longer ignore.

About how our economies discriminate against women and girls — and against marginalized racial and ethnic groups. It is not by chance, but hard-wired deep in our economies.

This for me is the story of COVID-19. A world in which the color of your skin can quite literally determine your job, your rights, and even your lifespan.

Despite all the progress we’ve made, centuries of patriarchy, white supremacy and colonialism still shape the world in which we all breathe.

How many more like Amanda Gorman, like Hindou Ibrahim and others is our world losing out on because of this?

Movements of ordinary people have erupted across the globe in recent years to respond to such injustices. They are the young climate strikers, the BlackLivesMatter protesters and the feminist #NiUnaMenos in Latin America, and many more.

While different, they all share a common demand for justice, and an understanding that the great challenges we face are connected.

For years Oxfam has shone a light on the huge and frightening gap between rich and poor.

We showed recently how the wealth of just ten billionaires has skyrocketed by half a trillion dollars since last March. That’s enough to ensure every single person on this planet has access to a vaccine and to prevent anyone being pushed into poverty by the pandemic. While at the same time hundreds of millions of people are being pushed into poverty and despair.

But the movements of our time are also showing us all how to better understand the inequalities we face.

We know that we can no longer speak about the gap between rich and poor in isolation.

Let’s be clear: our economies today are not only rigged in favor of enriching the most-privileged and against the poor — they’re also rigged against women and girls, and against marginalized racial and ethnic groups. They’re pushing us to the brink of climate chaos.

As I went to the Davos World Economic Forum last month — online — I urged leaders to back the solutions we need to address such grotesque inequalities.

From investing in universal public healthcare, so you get the same quality of care irrespective of the color of your skin, the cash in your purse or your gender. To requiring pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and know-how so that it’s not just the richest countries and richest people who get access to a COVID-19 vaccine, but all of us: a “People’s Vaccine”.

From taxing the rich and corporations to fund our green, fairer future, to ensuring every worker has rights and guaranteed income. From hurtling down the carbon emissions of the rich so we can tackle climate breakdown, to recognizing and redistributing the 12.5 billion hours of care work done by women each day — for free.

These are all vital. There are more. We will keep repeating the need for these.

But I realize too that as important as any solution is getting our mission straight. For it’s not just our lack of policy holding us back — but our lack of imagination.

What can’t we keep doing?

We can’t keep hoping for market-based solutions because the market has failed to deliver them in forty long years. We can’t keep hoping for money to “trickle down”.

We can’t simply rely on the good-will of billionaires, or of super-rich white men, to lead us out of the darkness. For they led us unto it.

No — we need a better vision. One that offers real hope.

We need to put equality at the heart of our economic rescue and recovery efforts and create an economic model fit for the 21st century.

We need to realize that there can be no racial or gender equality without tackling the grotesque wealth and power at the top.

Every government in the world must make it their goal to end such extreme wealth — and abolish gender and racial inequality altogether. Let us live with dignity, within the bounds of the planet.

And we must offer everyone opportunity, no matter their color or gender or class.

That is the mission we need for us to truly have hope for the future.