The year 2020 witnessed the full effect of the Covid-19 global pandemic that met a world unprepared to deal with the disruptions it brought on; drastically changing and impacting the lives of people all over the world and generations to come.
In Africa like elsewhere communities and nations banded together to adapt to the new Covid-19 reality with experiences gained from managing other major public health emergencies such as Ebola providing a foundation to support the rapid roll out of preventative measures.
However, as has been witnessed in the past, vulnerable groups were still left with a greater burden to bear as a result of the economic and social impact of Covid-19 lockdowns coupled with inadequate access to adequate health care facilities.
Africa’s women and girls constitute one of the most vulnerable groups impacted by Covid-19 and the lockdowns imposed witnessed an unprecedented rise in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) also referred to as the shadow pandemic.
Loss of income not only negated the economic gains made by women in the recent past; the closure of educational institutions disrupted the educational opportunities for girls all over the continent who in turn fell victim to harmful traditional practices.
GBV has rocked and continues to erode the socio-economic fabric of many communities in Africa.
Statistically, women and girls in poorer economic conditions are more likely to experience gender-based violence.
With the emergence of Covid-19 there has been an increase in reported rape cases, unplanned pregnancies (especially amongst teenage girls), early and forced marriages, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and sexual abuse.
Likewise, with Covid-19 restrictions, access to healthcare facilities has become increasingly difficult due to the overwhelming number of patients compared to medical personnel and health care facilities available. In essence, the impact of the pandemic has led to crippled economies, healthcare systems and education.
African countries must understand the gravity of the situation in their respective states and work to alleviate the negative impact the pandemic has had on the lives of African women and girls.
Given the presence of the shadow-pandemic and its impact on women and girls, it is paramount that African governments take a gender-responsive approach towards combating Covid-19.
This approach requires Member States to commit to ensuring gender parity and women’s empowerment and that the Covid-19 pandemic does not ultimately aggravate other areas of vulnerability for women and girls, including women’s reproductive health, child marriages and domestic violence.
In Africa, despite the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls, numerous data and reports on Covid-19 further misrepresent and undermine the effect on women and girls.
As a result, gender-responsive responses to Covid-19 have not been implemented in state actions with African governments being left ill-equipped to create long-term recovery policies to alleviate the impact of the burden of the pandemic on women and girls.
“The impact of Covid-19 on women is multi-dimensional and therefore, the responses have to be appropriate to meet the differential and multiple ways in which women may be affected.”
The African Union’s Covid-19 Gender Mainstreaming and Women’s Inclusion Strategy and Roadmap, a collaborative project launched by the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate (WGYD) and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment (UN Women) exists as a tool to help inform interventions on a continental, regional and community levels.
This project was initiated following the African Ministers in charge of Gender and Women’s Affairs meeting held on 12th May 2020.
In June 2020, the African Union Guidelines on Gender Responsive Responses to Covid-19 was developed and implemented. These guidelines were developed per Agenda 2063 and AU’s commitment to Gender Empowerment and Women's Equality (GEWE).
The core goal of the guideline is to assist Member States in addressing, managing, responding and recovering from Covid-19 with GEWE priorities guiding the said efforts.
A few of the approaches highlighted for incorporating GEWE in tackling COVID-19 include: gender mainstreaming and integration, sex-disaggregated data, gender-budgeting, and enforcing existing commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The guidelines provide Member States with a blueprint on how to regain and retain socio-economic stability for women and girls.
If appropriately implemented, African member states have the opportunity to address instability in the economy, food and agriculture, healthcare, education, peace and security and other aspects of their respective socio-economic and political fabrics that have been heavily affected by Covid-19.
Gender mainstreaming is a priority for the African Union in its approach towards responding to the pandemic.
The African Union is working on a report that will consist of necessary approaches that will aid in assessing the impact of Covid-19 responses on gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as raise awareness and sensitise African citizens by demonstrating the need for gender mainstreaming in tackling the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls.
The report will include consultation with civil society to ensure that the findings incorporate the voices of African citizens.
The report will provide recommendations to member states on concrete interventions which can be enacted in policy and practice across sectors such as the economy, health and education, to ensure gender-responsive Covid-19 responses.
If African governments implement and adhere to the guidelines, reports and frameworks and reinforce them with legal instruments, policymakers will not only be well informed but also equipped with the right tools in ensuring an equal future for women and girls in a Covid-19 world.
Learn More about the African Unions’ strategies and guiding legal instruments that focus on the attainment of gender equality and women's empowerment in all spheres of life in Africa including developing and implementing policies and programmes that address issues related to women and girls rights, advocate for their protection and prohibit violence and harmful practices and other social norms that disempower women and girls. These include,the AU Strategy for Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The African Union Commission Women, Gender and Youth Directorate is responsible for leading, guiding, defending and coordinating the AU's efforts on gender equality and development and promoting women and youth empowerment.
The African Union (AU) is a continental body consisting of 55 member states that make up the countries of the African Continent. The AU is guided by its vision of “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”
To ensure the realisation of its objectives and the attainment of the Pan African Vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, Agenda 2063 was developed as a strategic framework for Africa’s long-term socio-economic and integrative transformation. Agenda 2063 calls for greater collaboration and support for African-led initiatives to ensure the achievement of the aspirations of African people. Learn more about the African Union and Agenda 2063 by visiting www.au.int