IMPORTANT DISCUSSION

Women's voices left out in corona responses

They’re suffering more than before because processes are not focused on their issues.

In Summary
  • Participants expressed the need to have a special focus on the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls.
  • The importance of this request made to the AU and Africa CDC cannot be overemphasised. 
An image portraying gender violence.
An image portraying gender violence.
Image: COURTESY

Africa’s women and girls are demanding full participation and inclusion in Covid-19  responses.

As governments fight the pandemic,it is becoming increasingly clear that there is need for a conscious and deliberate effort to include essential services to address violence against women and girls in budgetary allocations. World Health Organization’s guidelines to governments indicate that funds must be set aside and ways identified to make them easily accessible to women during this pandemic.

This past week, the African Women’s Development & Communications Network, Femnet, convened one of the largest anglo/francophone Africa regional women’s webinar on Covid-19 responses that was attended by more than 100 women from 33 countries in Africa. They were seeking official statements from the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The webinar titled Africa Union Preparedness and Response to Covid-19 had the acting director of the African Union Commission’s Gender & Development Directorate Victoria Maloka as one of the panel guests and Benjamin Djoudalbaye, head of the Division of Policy, Health, Diplomacy and Communications at Africa CDC.

The participants expressed the need to have a special focus on the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls. The importance of this request made to the AU and Africa CDC cannot be overemphasised.

“We are already dealing with the escalating cases of gender-based violence. Women are suffering more than they were suffering before because processes are obviously not focusing on these issues even as they respond to the pandemic,” Maloka said. She noted that it had come to their attention that girls are being married off, an issue that must be urgently addressed.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the AU goodwill ambassador on ending early and forced child marriage, urged the Africa CDC to find a way to integrate some core gender considerations within their responses to the Covid-19 that would reinforce the responses by governments to focus more on women and girls.

The pandemic has seen governments reduce budgets for most of their programmes and focus on strengthening their health systems. This has impacted negatively on projects that address issues of women and girls.

Femnet’s Memory Kachambwa spoke truth to power. “We want to get answers where women have cried out but the response has not been forthcoming. Governments cannot claim they care if the rights of women with disabilities, pregnant women and lactating mothers are not catered for and are suffering violence during curfews and lockdowns.”

Africa CDC reports that there are currently 20 countries in Africa that are on national lockdown with restriction of non-essential movement, 26 have night-time curfews.

According to UN Women, globally, 243 million women and girls have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months.

The number is likely to increase as security, health, and money worries heighten tensions and strains get accentuated by cramped and confined living conditions. Already, emerging data show that since the outbreak of Covid-19, violence against women and girls has increased.

Actress and communications consultant