Covid-19 has altered how we live and work. Specific measures need to be taken to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the vulnerable groups especially women and girls
By Robin Makayi
When a 15-year old Dadirai reported to a Mutare clinic complaining of flank pain, nurses were quick to dismiss her case as heavy periods.
Hours later, she was in maternity ward. After an agonizing 10-hour labor period, Dadirai became a mother to an underweight baby boy.
She was in great shock and disbelief, so was her family. Dadirai had been unknowingly pregnant for the past 9-months and her sole guardian, an 88-year old sickly grandmother was too, oblivious.
She later claimed to have been raped by an elderly male relative during Covid 19 lockdown.
Yet the tale of Dadirai is not uncommon in many parts of Zimbabwe and SADC nations. Many young girls who dropped out of school during forced Covid 19 lockdowns would eventually fell pregnant under abject poverty, characterised by multiple deprivations.
The global pandemic Covid 19 is not gender-neutral; it has disproportionately affected women and girls more than men and boys.
Mandatory lockdowns increased transmittable stress to both genders by reducing personal privacy yet increasing scrutiny and demand for family provisions and care, leading to tensions, conflict, and sometimes violence.
Global sex-disaggregated statistics have shown men’s vulnerability to this disease than women, accounting for 60% of all fatalities. Men often have more existing health complications such as HBP and diabetes and many bad lifestyle habits.
Men have longer and sustained sexual lives, putting their body systems under serious physiological and metabolic stress.
These factors amongst others, weaken both their individual and herd immune systems, often leading to their higher mortality rate once exposed to the Covid 19 virus. However, there is a bleak picture of how Covid 19 impacts women and girls.
Women and girls often bear the brunt of caregiving as this is an acceptable social construct across the SADC region and in many parts of Africa. Girls are often preferred as baby minders to boys in most home settings due to their perceived meekness.
Up to 70% of all health workers are women, exposing them more to the virus than their male counterparts and exacerbating their caring burden at home.
‘Social distancing’ and lockdown measures have adversely hit services requiring direct human contact: vending, hairdressing, clothing, food services, retail, entertainment, and domestic work – services predominantly occupied by women.
Women have suffered more redundancy, layoffs and reduced hours.
Employment for agriculture is basically women-oriented. Food security is under threat as there is an increase for demand for caregiving, draining out women-based labor pools.
Maternal, reproductive and mental health is difficult to access during this pandemic. Plan International reports that forced marriage and rape, continue to increase in Zimbabwe (as sadly happened to Dadirai) and many parts of South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.
Learning from the past Ebola and Sars epidemics, many girls don’t return to school after lockdown. The existing gender bias ensures that there is a digital divide as boys are often prioritized over girls in access to computers and the internet, thereby reducing girls’ online lessons.
GEC reported that teenage pregnancy across sub-Saharan Africa increased by 65% as a result of school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Washington Post referred to Covid-19 induced recessions as She- cessions as they are definitely affecting women more than men.
Dangers of Status Quo
Educated, economically empowered and socially balanced women in any society act as a buffer against conflict and curtail the emergency of extremist militant groups.
Uneducated women populace can easily be manipulated and exploited by unhinged male gangs and misled by politicians as they make up the bulk of the electorate in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
The education challenge stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic is enormous. Statistics from both UNICEF and ONE Campaign show that at least 8 million girls are out of school in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Uneducated and economically deprived womanhood is unable to respond well to climate change and natural disasters.
COVID has altered how we live and work. Specific measures need to be taken to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the vulnerable groups especially women and girls. Women need to be represented in crises management from local level to national level.
The UN Women Count and UNFPA, made a post-COVID-19 recovery report with strong recommendations for advancing gender parity in post-pandemic eras. SADC governments must pay attention to women as front-line health care-givers, provide social distancing and PPE, access to water, sanitation/hygiene, reproductive and maternal health and advance their education.
Governments must include measures to address gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection in COVID-19 response and recovery plans, ensuring that plans are gender and age responsive and multi-sectored.
Women jobs, businesses and livelihoods must be preserved by creating social registries and facilitating trade and providing special bank programs. Abused women must be protected from abusers and provided with shelter homes and food assistance.
Africa must never worst a crisis; SADC must consolidate past social and economic gains and quickly rebuilt better social and financial systems with strong liquidity, while Zimbabwe must continue to lead from the front. *Dadirai and her son must live and let live.
*NOT her real name
Robin Makayi is a current affairs commentator on the Sunday Express. He writes in his personal capacity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback
Robin Makayi is a current affairs commentator. he writes in his personal capacity. Email email@example.com for feedback
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