Over the past decade, research on women and gender has increased dramatically. The rapid expansion of the field has led to the creation of university courses and programs at hundreds of institutions worldwide. Many programs and courses center on global affairs broadly understood from international economics and development to international relations, law, and public health. The associated faculty are often actively connected to disciplinary and national networks but lack opportunities for cross-disciplinary and transnational conversations, both of which are essential when gender and global affairs are concerned. Established disciplinary frameworks are challenged by research that is not amenable to exclusively nationally focused (and informed) study. At the same time, the recent shift towards conservative leadership in many states has led to a powerful backlash against women’s and gender rights. This trend risks undermining academic and other institutions focused on women’s rights and gender and threatening hard-fought gains achieved through research and education as well as advocacy and policy making. These trends risk being aggravated by the policies implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in numerous settings, have included restrictions on civil society mobilizations and could entail limitations on academic freedom and human rights.  At the same time, both the authoritarian turn and the pandemic have prompted counter-mobilizations and may lead to greater attention being paid to gender-related research and teaching. 
In this context, policies implemented in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic may exacerbate authoritarian tendencies, leading to further restrictions on research and teaching along with the curtailment of civil society mobilizations and the imposition of disproportionate burdens on women and LGBTQI individuals, in particular those subject to racial, ethnic, ability-related or migration-based discriminations. At the same time, the pandemic may open new space for research.

The Women and Gender in Global Affairs Network (WGGA) seeks to counter the risks to the gender academy related to current authoritarian trends, to address the need for interdisciplinary and global connections, and to facilitate the promotion of initiatives designed to explore the potential that even crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic may present. It does so by strengthening the community of scholars, educators, and researchers and bolstering connections between academia and the worlds of practice. We are convinced that greater connectivity can help foster innovation and critical thought, even as it enhances resilience and reduces the chances of regression. 

The WGGA is grateful for the support it has received from the Compton Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and, at Columbia University, the School of International and Public Affairs, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, the Columbia Global Centers, the Harriman Institute and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.