PANDEMIC

Counties should lead localised approach to tackle teen pregnancies

They need to have a well-tailored, sex and age-specific programmes that target girls and women

In Summary

• This is also the time to put to action the many existing policies that address these very issues.

• For instance, the Migori County Sexual Gender Based Violence Policy 2021 was recently launched. We hope it will not end up on the shelf.

Adolescent girls are among the most marginalised and at-risk populations when outbreaks and emergencies such as Covid-19 occur.

Evidence from earlier crises shows epidemics and other natural disasters exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of girls and create new ones and deepen gender and social inequalities.

Such negative secondary impact could lead to a significant reversal in gains made over the last few decades in women and girls’ human capital, economic empowerment, voice and agency. They consequently threaten the commitment of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 to eliminate gender disparities at all levels in the region.

Evidence has shown mitigating measures such as Covid-19 lockdowns as well as the disease itself, have a detrimental impact on adolescent girls. In times of crisis, adolescent girls face great risks due to school closures, loss of livelihood, significant stress on families and lack of access to safe spaces and sexual reproductive information and services.

In the first wave of Covid-19, adolescent pregnancy cases increased by up to 65 per cent, according to national data. The rise in teenage pregnancy was attributed to several factors, including increased sexual exploitation, sexual violence and transactional sex, as well as a rise in consensual sexual activity and enhanced barriers to accessing SRH services.

Emerging evidence indicates Covid-19 as well as the mitigating measures applied to contain it, are resulting in substantial negative secondary impact on adolescent girls across various aspects of life.

In my home county of Migori, for instance, initial studies by Plan International have shown domestic violence has risen as a result of Covid-19 related curfew restrictions and economic burden of the pandemic. For instance, there has been a spike of 30 per cent in domestic violence during the previous waves.

During the first and second wave, World Vision reported a 35 per cent increase in gender-based violence cases and a 50 per cent increase in violence against girls.

School closure has also been severally identified as a predisposing factor to sexual gender-based violence against girls, female genital mutilation, early marriage and teenage pregnancies.

In a move to mitigate these and other emerging gaps, county governments should move with speed to put in place a pandemic response that sufficiently addresses women’s and adolescent girls’ needs.

This is also the time to put to action the many existing policies that address these very issues. For instance, the Migori County Sexual Gender Based Violence Policy 2021 was recently launched. We hope it will not end up on the shelf.

Finally, local governments need to have a well-tailored, sex and age-specific programmes that systematically target adolescent girls and women. Put in place an economic stimulus package targeting adolescent girls and young women.

Orwa is a youth advocate at the Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa