Gender Equality Matters in COVID – 19 Response!
COVID-19 is affecting everyone, especially women. African governments have restricted mobility and are enforcing social distancing. These steps, along with good hygiene, are vital to containing and preventing the further spread of the virus. But these steps are not equally available to all people and will have different impacts for many whose livelihoods are being disrupted
Date: Thursday, April 30, 2020
Those who live in over-crowded communities with inadequate water and sanitation services are at great risk if the virus enters their communities. Most of the labour force in Africa are in the informal economy and must work every day to earn income, women representing the majority of workers; very few of them have savings sufficient to support themselves for extended periods of lockdown or have jobs or engage in businesses that offer a level of social security. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely lead to loss of demand for services offered by SMES leading to attendant loss of revenue. SMEs are under significant pressure and many face potential closure and bankruptcy.
For women, the effects are far-reaching. Women are on the frontline of service provision in both the public health care sector and in their homes. They carry the burden of care for children, the sick and the elderly. Globally, 70% of health care workers are women, and Africa is no exception.
On average 26% of all households in Africa are headed by women with the number as high as 43% in Southern Africa and up to 50% in the Sahel. For the most part these women are the sole income earners in their households and responsible for the physical and emotional care of family members. When they do not work, there is no food for their families.
In responding to COVID-19 and the impacts of mobility restrictions, governments must take account of the gender division of labour and how pre-existing gender inequalities can undermine the safety and resilience of women and their households. Food aid is important but much more has to be done.
Social protection measures such as cash transfers and other economic frameworks to cushion the effects on businesses and protect jobs must target women headed households and women’s businesses. Beyond social protection, women’s production and labour force participation is critical to economic recovery. Stimulus packages should provide financial and material resources to women farmers and other entrepreneurs. Governments should work with credit institutions to suspend interest and debt repayments, while also developing preferential credit packages that can be accessed by women producers, whether in the formal or informal sectors. The governments should support women owned businesses by lightening the burdens of tax, sourcing goods, services, agricultural products from them and exercising affirmative action in all areas during these critical times.
COVID-19 affects women and girls with disabilities disproportionately for both health and socio-economic reasons. Women and girls with disabilities are the poorest of the poor, yet Corona Virus brings additional expenses to them including purchase of protective gears such as sanitisers, soap and masks for themselves, their dependants, their support persons including personal assistants and the assistive devices they use on a daily basis since all these have to be sanitised. The restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic require social distancing, yet this is not feasible for women and girls with disabilities who depend on daily support. COVID-19 has increased the stigma and discrimination among women and girls with disabilities. They are not mentioned anywhere, and the emergency response teams have not targeted them directly in terms of testing for the virus, provision of food, and other preventive equipment. It is essential for governments to prioritize their socioeconomic needs. Governments need to provide information on the preventive measures in accessible formats in braille, large print, audio for the blind and partially sighted, sign language for those living with hearing impairment, easy to read, pictures, symbols for persons living with psychosocial and developmental disabilities and captioning for the deafblind, including description of hand washing and wearing of masks.
Women must participate in and benefit from the national response to COVID-19. As the UN Secretary-General pointed out, where women are not consulted, policy making is less likely to be effective and can even do harm. Ministries in charge of gender and women’s organizations must bring gender perspectives into measures being designed by Governments to respond to the pandemic. Women’s health care needs should be protected through continued access to reproductive health services and information.
UN Women is committed to working with African governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations to ensure that the COVID-19 impact assessments and national action plans respond to the specific needs of women and girls for their protection, equal access to resources and participation in community and national decision making.
Gender inequality is bad for society. If we did not know that before, certainly COVID-19 has made that clear. When women cannot work, the effects are felt by all.
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