Africa CDC and the AU must offer dignified & inclusive focus to women & girls in COVID19 response

Nairobi 25th April 2020: Without the full participation and inclusion of women within the COVID19 pandemic response, Africa’s efforts to flatten the curve and/or wipe-out the pandemic will be futile and counter-productive.
Without the deliberate infusion of gender-disaggregated data to unpack the reality of the impact of the COVID19 Pandemic, a huge chunk of Africa’s population will remain disenfranchised and forgotten as the ravages of the global pandemic continues to bite.

As the world tirelessly continues to battle the COVID19 Pandemic, Africa’s women and girls are urgently looking up to the African Union  and the African Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC) to  purposefully focus on unpacking the impact of the disease on women and girls to ensure the efforts are inclusive and transformative.
The African Women’s Development & Communications Network, FEMNET on Friday convened the one of the largest anglo/francophone Africa Regional Women’s Webinar on COVID 19 response seeking official statements from the African Union and the African Center for Disease Control.

“African women are seeking a holistic focused response that takes into consideration the diversity of the women in the continent. We want to make sure that our countries are clear on a gender-responsive process that will not diminish the special needs of women at the expense of patriarchal approaches. We need inclusive and dignified responses in every approach”. Declared FEMNET;’s Executive Director Memory Kachambwa.

In the Webinar titled: Africa Union Preparedness and Response to COVID19, FEMNET hosted two guests to the platform to inform and respond to queries by about 100 African women participants from 33 countries.  The Acting Director of the Africa Union Commission’s Gender & Development Directorate Ms. Victoria Maloka was joined on the panel by Dr.Benjamin Djoudalbaye, the Head of the Division of Policy, Health, Diplomacy and Communications of the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Directing their appeal to the African Union and the African CDC, the participants collectively sought for a substantive gender inclusive COVID19 response by African governments that would take special focus on the impact of the disease on women and girls.

This regional webinar comes at a time when Africa’s statistics on the prevalence of the COVID 19 Pandemic as of the 24th of April stands at over 2.5 million cases of infections with over 175,000 deaths reported. Five countries within this data namely, South Africa, Egypt, Morrocco, Algeria and Cameroon have so far reported continued higher cases of infections compared to other African countries.

These statistics as presented by the Africa CDC and other platforms have however not yet encapsulated the prevailing impacts of the COVID 19 on lives and livelihoods of people in Africa and specifically of women and girls.

Gender disaggregated data is a must!
It is for this reason therefore that FEMNET, projecting the voices of African women and girls from over 48 countries in the continent is now pushing for an inclusive and dignified response to the pandemic that will take into specific consideration the impact and devastation on the lives of women and girls in Africa.

“It is not enough to only give the data. We need gender disaggregated data. We need specific data that will support and inform the response processes so that resources can rightfully be allocated where there is severe need” said the AUs Victoria Maloka. “Gender equality has to be in the center of the COVID 19 response so that we ensure that this pandemic does not reverse all the gains we have made so far in the lives of women and girls in Africa”.
Currently, as countries continue to suffer economic and social backlashes because of lockdowns, nationally instituted curfews and travel bans, the gains of gender equality and rights for women seemingly diminish by the day in the absence of critical data and gender-responsive processes.

According to Victoria Maloka, the scarcity of gender disaggregated data is contributing greatly towards the impact on women because lack of this evidence-based approach puts women at a higher risk of suffering the brunt of the pandemic either directly or indirectly.
“We are already dealing with the escalating cases of gender based violence. Women are suffering more than they were suffering before because processes are obviously not focusing on these issues even as they respond to the Pandemic”. She said. “Recently, it has come to our attention that there are cases of girls being married off even at this time of the pandemic, an issue that urgently needs to be addressed. These are the issues that may be lost as countries grapple with this disease”.

FEMNET’s Memory Kachambwa is keen to expand the spaces for African Women and girls to speak truth to power to policy makers and ensure that their voices concerning these issues are not lost to governments as they plan for COVID19 interventions.

“We want to directly speak truth to power by addressing our policy makers and leaders such as the African Union. We want to get answers where women have cried out but no response has been fourth-coming. We demand specific support for women even as countries address COVID”. Memory urged. “Governments cannot claim to be inclusive in their response if the rights of women with disabilities are not catered for. Governments cannot claim they care if pregnant women and lactating mothers are suffering neglect and violence during curfews and lockdowns. They cannot claim to be inclusive when women cannot access their sexual and reproductive health and rights in the current crisis.  How can governments claim legitimacy when they look the other way as women are beaten to death in their homes where they have been forced to “stay home”? We want to know what resources and measures are in place to prevent violence against women now and the systemic changes. This is a reality that cannot and must not be ignored”.  
Threats to women escalate amidst COVID19 response
The threat to women and girls in Africa in the wake of this global pandemic continues to escalate.
“We know that at the time of crisis, it is the women remaining at home who struggle to feed families. It is the women who shoulder the burden of taking care of the sick. Women are up trying to seek and distribute food to those in need and then we know they are the bulk of the healthcare givers and doing high-risk jobs to take care of the ailing. The impact on them is devastating”. Said Victoria Maloka.

This is a scenario that is only too clear to women rights organizations like FEMNET working in the continent to amplify the voices of women and girls in Africa.

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, The AU goodwill ambassador on ending early and forced marriage, a Human Rights Lawyer and director of the Rozaria Memorial Trust of Zimbabwe emphatically urged the Africa CDC to find a way to integrate some core gender considerations within their responses to the COVID19 pandemic that would reinforce the responses by African governments to focus more on women and girls.

“There has to be a way that you make sure there are indications that compel member states to provide the desired data to provide leadership on how countries can respond. Focusing for example to tracking child marriages would be a big step towards ending the practice even within the pandemic”.

Dinah Musindarwezo, another Regional Women’s rights advocate working with WomanKind UK directed her plea to the African Union to address debt-relief by member states to negotiate debt-repayment delays that would help countries to focus better and give undivided attention to fighting the pandemic.

In conclusion, the regional webinar urged the African Union to emphasize the need for gender dimensions within responses to the COVID 19 pandemic to assist stakeholders to implement more dignified and inclusive responses that will not leave out the specific needs of women and girls.

For more information and or to request for an interview, please contact: FEMNET’s Head of Communication, Mildred Ngesa, / +254727137853

The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) is a pan- African, feminist and membership-based network based in Nairobi with over 600 members across 48 African countries. FEMNET envisions an African society where gender equality is achieved and women and girls enjoy all their rights and live in dignity.  FEMNET exists to facilitate and coordinate the sharing of experiences, ideas, information, and strategies for human rights promotion among African women’s organizations through networking, communication, capacity-building and advocacy at the regional and international levels.

Since inception in 1988, FEMNET has strategically positioned herself as a convenor, organizer and facilitator on dialogues around critical issues including women’s involvement in governance and leadership, promoting women’s economic justice, advocating for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, ending gender-based violence and harmful practices (such as female genital mutilation and child marriage) and strengthening the women’s movement in Africa.

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