How Women and Girls are Faring With COVID-19 In Africa
Updated: May 22, 2021
The global pandemic is exacerbating existing gender inequities throughout the continent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director of Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, says, "We are already seeing that the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls is profound. Women are disproportionately affected by lockdowns, and this is resulting in reduced access to health services."
Women are also suffering in other ways in the pandemic, as gender-based violence has increased worldwide. The World Health Organization of Africa, WHO Africa, has noted that "A recent study by UN Women found that reports of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries."
It's a Women’s Thing
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa's director for Gender, Poverty, and Social Policy, Thokozile Ruzvidzo, said, "Domestic violence rates are rising, with COVID-19 lockdowns keeping families at home together; for longer periods and women unable to leave an unsafe situation."
Additionally, 65 percent of nurses in Africa are female. Women also make up most health facility service staff, such as laundry and catering, which further increases their exposure to the virus.
Women all across Africa are struggling during this time. According to the UN's ECA, a $100 billion stimulus is needed, as Africa will lose 19 million jobs throughout the pandemic.
In the spirit of sisterhood, several women across Africa are banding together in large and small ways to support each other at this time. Here is a quick look at those making significant differences in women’s lives in Ghana, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Good and The Bad of Ghana
Surprisingly, 90 percent of Ghanaian women work in the informal sector, yet they do not have access to social and labor protections. The Ghanaian government's measures do not help marginalized people, mainly women, and girls. Their situation is tricky, as there is limited access to health facilities and basic needs amid the pandemic, such as water, soap, and sanitizer.
People are restricted to their homes, so access to food is limited, which causes malnutrition and starvation among the poor, many of which are women.
Additionally, the increase in school closures adversely affects the lives of children, particularly young girls. According to BMJ, there is an "increased risk of them dropping out of school and an increased likelihood of early or forced marriage, gender-based violence, and adolescent pregnancies."
The good news is that three female entrepreneurs in Ghana took matters into their own hands to help support fellow female-led companies.
According to Forbes, Roberta Annan, Adeline Akufo-Addo Kufuor, and Dentaa Amoateng have come together to "enhance the government's efforts to provide relief to women-led small businesses." They are doing this with the help of a COVID-19 Stimulus Fund.
The fund is for small-and-medium, female-led enterprises, particularly those focusing on female empowerment and entrepreneurship, sustainability, and those that will positively impact the Ghanaian economy. The application period for the fund was between June 1st and August 1st, 2020.
Each of the winning businesses received between GHC 15,000 and 30,000 (USD 2,500-5,000). Roberta Annan, the Managing partner of Annan Capital Partners, showed her support of the initiative: “We are excited to support Female-led SMEs in Ghana with investment and infrastructure to support their long-term growth and development.”
These three women have taken it upon themselves to help female-led businesses during this difficult time. Dentaa Amoateng, President of the GUBA Enterprise, explained why this initiative is essential right now: “Coronavirus has greatly affected many businesses, especially small and medium businesses. This initiative is not only timely but incredibly necessary to help women businesses get back on track.”
One can only hope that this trailblazing Ghanian trio of Roberta Annan, Adeline Akufo-Addo Kufuor, and Dentaa Amoateng continues their entrepreneurial endeavors, raising their fellow Ghanaian women and girls both in and out of this pandemic.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo: Radios Are Not Silent
It’s hard to imagine that the Congolese women did not have access to radios until August of last year. The men had radios, but women were not privy to them. However, the Action for Vulnerable Women and Children (ASFEV) received funding from the Internews Rapid Response Fund. The purpose of this fund is to provide information about the prevention and spread of COVID-19 to community residents in their local language. ASFEV felt the most efficient and effective way to do this was to distribute radios to women through the women’s clubs that they had previously established.
These women’s clubs are now being used to spread the information they learn from the radios to their communities. But, they were initially set up ASFEV in several villages to collect information about victims of sexual violence and provide resources.
It’s an old and true form of “social” media. The women's clubs took the information they got from the radios and shared it with other women throughout their communities via church and family gatherings. Sharing this was a risky endeavor amid COVID. So, the ASFEV provided masks to protect the women from spreading the virus while spreading their news.
The ASFEV is an integral part of the DRC’s fight against the Coronavirus, as women previously had no information about COVID-19 nor testing. Some rural families believed that they had to move to the fields and risk other illnesses and attacks to escape the Coronavirus risk.
Before COVID-19, ASFEV’s focus was on supporting women, particularly victims of sexual violence. Congolese women can experience several difficulties in their local life, and the Coronavirus exacerbated that reality.
According to Women for Women, 74.8% of Congolese women believe that a husband beating his wife is justifiable. 57% of women experience physical, psychological, or sexual violence, and 33% marry by 18.
As is the case in many countries, in Africa, and here in The U.S, social restrictions, mandatory lockdowns, and isolation have exacerbated domestic violence. Communication and information are powerful tools for women everywhere. The ASFEV radios have proven to be an excellent aid for women in and out of lockdown, as knowledge is always power, wherever you are.
You can support women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by giving to Women for Women here.
Zimbabwe: Women in STEM Are Still Helping Rural Girls Learn
Countries, like Zimbabwe, in sub-Saharan Africa are battling more than the Coronavirus right now; they are also battling AIDS-related illnesses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, there could be 500,000 extra deaths from AIDS-related diseases in sub-Saharan Africa 2020 and 2021combined if something isn't done about health services' interruptions due to COVID-19.
If health services are interrupted, the people will lose the gains in preventing AIDS-related illnesses. These gains include preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV; if the coronavirus halts these services for six months, child HIV infections could rise by as much as 78% in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean women are at an extreme disadvantage as compared to their male counterparts. According to UN Women, gender-based violence is at the heart of it as "47% of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their life." Zimbabwe has entrenched patriarchal values, which cause women to be disproportionately affected by coronavirus and AIDS-related illnesses.
However, help was given to the vulnerable Zimbabwean people. Between June 26th and July 2nd, WHO and the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) conducted essential services support through immunizations in several Zimbabwean Districts.
Health is not the only form of suffering that women and girls are experiencing during the pandemic. Girls who live in rural communities now don't have access to education. Even though the government has set up online platforms, many children in rural areas have little or no access to this as they have less access to and less knowledge of the necessary gadgets and gear.
Patience Mkandawire gives girls in her District access to education as she is studying IT and software engineering. She is helping girls in Nkayi District get the education resources they need, showing them what STEM women can do.
She has become an ally to girls in her community by being a member of the CAMFED Association; she is currently a Core trainer, a life skills mentor who delivers curriculum to support marginalized children, specifically girls.
Mkandawire knows what it feels like to be marginalized, so she made it her mission to give girls a second chance in her District. She is among many young women in Nkayi District and Zimbabwe, supporting other young Zimbabwean girls’ right to an education.
She is committed to empowering many young girls to become women in STEM and help others in need around them.
We can support girls in Zimbabwe by giving to CAMFED here.
Written by Megan Maxwell and Karen Loftus