Pandemic highlights gender inequities in Africa

SEVERAL studies have shown that women are more likely than men to adhere to measures to prevent Covid-19, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa, said on Thursday.

‘Women have stepped up to the challenge of this pandemic with courage and with compassion. Women are showing impressive leadership in politics and the private sector,’ Moeti said in a WHO virtual press briefing on Covid-19 in Africa.

Moeti was joined by Oulimata Sarr, regional director, UN Women Central and West Africa, and Yvonne Chaka Chaka, internationally renowned South African singer and humanitarian.

Moeti noted that Covid-19 was exacerbating the inequities associated with gender in several key spheres of life and development.

She noted that women were faced with the burden of care and had higher chances of being infected with Covid-19 or losing their livelihoods.

Moeti said the majority of caregivers at home, front-line workers and community volunteers were women.

When countries implemented lockdown, the work that many African women relied on for their livelihoods came to a standstill for several months.

She said the WHO was working with governments to ensure the continuous delivery of essential gender-responsive services and to provide training for health workers to support women suffering from gender-based violence (GBV).

Moeti said work across sectors was crucial. She said men, women and social and economic development would benefit from gender equality, and so everyone had to participate.

Sarr touched on the impact Covid-19 had had on formal and informal women-owned businesses across different sectors.

Studies conducted by the UN in 30 African countries found that these businesses had lost the vast majority of their income, owing to lockdown and the restrictions on movement.

Women-owned businesses were the most vulnerable during this pandemic, mainly due to the gender financing gap.

There was an estimated $42bn financing gap for African women across business value chains, including $15.6bn in agriculture alone, according to the African Development Bank.

A global gender response tracker study conducted by UN Women found that the vast majority of responses mainly focused on issues around violence and only about 40% addressed issues of economic empowerment and justice.

Sarr noted that most African countries were still ‘gender blind’ when it came to addressing issues around the socio-economic well-being of women, and the Covid-19 pandemic had made that apparent.

Sarr reiterated that women needed financing to keep their businesses afloat.

‘It’s very important when we are looking at building back better that we address the gender financing gap, we make sure that the measures that the governments are putting in place are not gender blind, and it’s our role as partners, as the UN, to make sure that we engender our work, otherwise women will continue to fall behind,’ said Sarr.

Chaka Chaka said the Covid-19 pandemic had seen girls and women falling prey to abuse in their homes and early pregnancy.

She urged governments to take GBV as seriously as they had taken the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘I have no desire or wish to be anything else. I am a woman. I just want to remain a woman, because I bring life to this earth. All I am asking is to recognise my worth,’ said Chaka Chaka.

‘We need gender equalisation. If we can do that, we would have done our best,’ she said.

Moeti said: ‘If we are going to cover the gaps as far as health and gender is concerned, we need to design our services in a people-centred way and take into account gender-driven inequity in the design of policies for financing health, for designing our systems for health insurance, for making sure that the approaches taken to improving services take into account all people.’


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