International Women’s Day 2021, looking back and looking forward


Monday, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Every year IWD calls us to challenge the social forces that oppress women and girls and prevent them from living full, fair, and free lives. IWD invites us to celebrate the incredible activists worldwide who mobilized quickly to provide information and services remotely during the pandemic shutdown and without slowing ongoing efforts to expand rights for women.

Commemorating this year’s International Women’s Day prompts sober reflection on how the 2020 pandemic crisis affected women all over the world, as health workers, as other essential workers, and as caretakers of family members. In many places, women were the first to lose paid work while also taking on even more unpaid work, such as teaching and caring for stay-at-home students. Violence in the home increased. Access to reproductive health care decreased. The fragility of even minimal access by women to good health and wellbeing was laid bare this year.

But amidst all the hardship, women creatively responded by constructing vibrant mutual aid networks, finding new ways of maintaining communication and organizing to keep people safe. Digital delivery of information and tele-health — long a potential tool to reach underserved communities — reached more people in more places. At Hesperian, we saw an uptick in use of our reproductive health apps and our free digital resources. As information and services were denied to women because of the pandemic, they stepped up to share our resources to help solve problems. More women became health promoters.  

As the pandemic ends and we make the slow transition back to “normal life,” we know that many of the tools that helped extend health access–like our apps and digital resources– will continue to create pathways to health literacy and action. And we know that the expanded grassroots participation in health promotion, especially around reproductive rights, will only increase in the face of new challenges.