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Women voices should be listened to in the COVID-19 fight

By Jacky Achan

Added 20th July 2020 02:32 PM

The number of women in leadership in Africa is still too low at about only 23% but, countries led by women responded to COVID-19 pandemic better.

Women voices should be listened to in the COVID-19 fight

Graça Machel, a former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa and International advocate for women's and children's rights. (Mujahid Safodien/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The number of women in leadership in Africa is still too low at about only 23% but, countries led by women responded to COVID-19 pandemic better.

WOMEN   VIRUS

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has unearthed massive inequalities within our societies and brought to glaring light the unique burdens which women carry the world over, says Graça Machel a former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa and International advocate for women's and children's rights. 

As many as 12,200 additional maternal deaths could occur over six months in low and middle-income countries due to a reduction in maternal health services of between just 9.8 -18.5%, according to a recent analysis published in the Lancet Global Health.

Uganda's Maternal Mortality Rate has consistently been one of the highest in the world with 440 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF's) data.

One woman out of every 49 will die of a maternal complication related to pregnancy or delivery in Uganda. With the coronavirus dilemma, it could get worse.

Whereas the Uganda health sector has excelled in the fight against COVID-19, there are concerns that other health matters including maternal health, HIV Aids, mental health and sexual reproductive health, have not received much attention.

"Maternal health and child health are shadow pandemics that we are seeing at the moment," says Melinda Gates the Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who together with Machel recently held online discussions hosted by Africa.com on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Girls: A Call to Action.

Women are refraining from visiting health facilities due to fears of contracting COVID-19, says the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

COVID-19 is also causing disruptions in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services because health service providers are occupied with the COVID-19 response.

According to UNFPA, some 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries are projected to be unable to use modern contraceptives if the average lockdown, or COVID-19-related disruption, continues for 6 months.

It says for every three months the lockdown continues, assuming high levels of disruption, up to 2 million additional women may be unable to use modern contraceptives.

If the lockdown continues for six months and there are major service disruptions due to COVID-19, an additional 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur.

The number of unintended pregnancies will increase as the lockdown continues and services disruptions are extended due to the virus, according to UNFPA.

Uganda has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 25% pregnancies among teenagers registered every year, according to statistics by the Ministry of Health.

"We need to counsel young girls about their bodies to avoid teen pregnancy during this COVID-19 pandemic," says Melinda Gates.

Although lockdowns declared by the government is being eased, it has spiralled cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The police recorded at least 328 cases of domestic violence during the lockdown, Deputy Police Spokesperson Polly Namaye disclosed to journalists in April. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a one-third reduction in progress towards ending gender-based violence by 2030, says UNFPA, in its interim technical note the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.

That aside, according to a World Bank report, economic hardship due to COVID-19 is also greater for women. Informal workers, most of whom are women, account for more than 90% of the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa.

But, "Public health measures have been blind to women and the rural poor," says Machel 

Where the Solution lies

"A proper response and redesign and reconstruction requires their voices and aspirations. Female leadership is central," says Machel.

She says COVID-19 responses by governments must be informed by the voices of women, "they make up the majority and sustain many families," she says.

Machel says economic interventions must be cognizant that many women run small businesses and productive projects that feed families.

"Women are central players in the food chain and key to agricultural output on the continent," she explains.

Women make up more than half of Uganda's agricultural workforce, and a higher proportion of women than men work in farming, 76% versus 62%, according to the Ministry of agriculture.

"We must place women and women's leadership at the core of the response and beyond," says Machel

The number of women in leadership in Africa is still too low at about only 23% but, countries led by women responded to COVID-19 pandemic better, observes Machel.

She says all COVID-19 responses must take into account a gendered perspective & consider the voices of women.

Just like Machel, Melinda Gates says "We've to put women at the centre of the solutions..."

She says most resources generated by women are reinvested into families. Gates says women have a different lens when they lead, they bring in both heart and mind.

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