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This strategy on Gender and the Corona Pandemic is part of the broader strategy by the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance and feminist organisations around the world to safeguard women’s rights in the face of the biggest threat to humanity this century.
On 5 March 2020 the first Corona Virus Disease (COVID19) case was recorded in Southern Africa in South Africa. Shortly thereafter, other countries began recording additional cases. Governments implemented strategies to curb infections by implementing restrictions on movement and physical distancing.
The immediate effects of COVID19 lockdowns include:
- Increases in gender-based violence (GBV)
- Increased burden of care on women
- Limited access to health care and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)
- Shortages in critical SRH services such as contraception
- Interruptions in education
- Severe impact on women entrepreneurs
Gender Links (GL), the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance and local government partners are committed to ensuring gender is central to COVID19 responses. In times of natural disasters and pandemics such as COVID19 SRHR is severely compromised. The impact Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in March 2019 on Mozambique shows the devasting effects of disasters. According to reliefweb in a June 2019 article Protecting people from gender-based violence, 1.85 million people were affected, 200,000 homes, classrooms and other facilities were destroyed, including 45 health clinics. Floods accompanied the storm, and isolated entire communities. Families spent days without food or clean water – waiting to be rescued or for the water to withdraw.
Reporting and managing GBV in these circumstances provides several challenges. These include amongst others:
- Lack of physical infrastructure to conduct physical examinations or to report cases.
- No medication such PEP available.
- Increases in unsafe abortions due to pregnancies resulting from rape.
- Limited or no psycho-social support to deal with the trauma.
Emergency situations require early warning systems planning to ensure that the requisite strategies and plans are in place to deal with issues such as GBV and SRHR.
Since 2018 GL and the SADC Protocol Alliance has implemented the #Voice and Choice SRHR campaign across 15 countries in SADC. The campaign is underpinned by a comprehensive communications strategy. In 2020, the communications strategy will pivot to include COVID 19 and its impact on gender and SRHR across the region.
The Gender, SRHR and COVID19 Communication Strategy will enhance public awareness, knowledge and critical dialogue on the gendered aspects of COVID19. The communication strategy will be used to mount advocacy campaigns and identify strategic interventions to address the gender and SRHR dimensions of COVID19.
The COVID19 pandemic is a threat to women’s rights gains. The pandemic is disrupting the everyday lives of women and men in the region. The substantial impact on economies, political and social systems is only just beginning. The long-term effect of COVID19 will be far-reaching. The immediate impact of COVID19 on gender and women include:
- Increasing the burden on scarce health resources.
- Increasing the burden of care placed on health workers.
- Resources allocated to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) will be reduced due to resources required to manage COVID19.
- Lack of medical care during this time will affect SRH including a rise in unsafe abortion and lack of contraception.
- The economic impact of COVID 19 is affecting women and girls more acutely. Women and girls generally earn less, therefore have less to save and hold insecure jobs.
- While increases in social welfare allocations by the state is welcome it increases the dependence of women on the state rather than promoting economic agency.
- Governments budgets will be shifted to cover COVID19, gender budgets must be guarded and increased to mitigate the effects COVID19 on women and girls.
- Access to state sponsored economic safety nets will require women to be formally employed and registered workers. Many women are in small and medium enterprises, conduct cross border trade, are domestic work or conduct small scale farming. Women need to be cushioned through increased grants to mitigate the crippling impact of COVID19.
- Traditionally women perform the bulk of care work in the home. With the outbreak of the virus the unpaid care work has increased, with children out-of-school, heightened care needs of older persons and overwhelmed health services. Unpaid work responsibilities add to women’s work in the home.
- Women are likely to experience increased GBV experiences as many women are locked down with the perpetrators in their homes. With the restrictions on movements support for survivors is limited.
- Given the persistent digital divide, the Corona virus will widen inequality gaps in access to information and technology.
- Access to water and sanitation is recognised as a basic human right. Many communities do not have water and sanitation facilities. Water and sanitation are fundamental to COVID19 prevention.
Generating media content
A call for articles on gender, SRHR and COVID19 was circulated to the media across the SADC region. Journalists submitted pitches to GL. The pitches were assessed and feedback was sent to journalists. Articles are being submitted to GL. The articles are published in the mainstream media in country and via the GL website and other social media platforms.
Some of the stories GL has published to date includes:
- Families suffer economically during lockdown in Madagascar
- Unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion may rise due to lockdown in Malawi
- Unpaid care and domestic work is increasing in lockdown in Eswatini
- Online communities, safe spaces for LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe
- Efforts made to counter GBV in the COVID19 crisis in Lesotho
Creating audio content
GL will create a series of audio excerpts on ten thematic areas including gender and COVID19; maternal and menstrual health; teenage pregnancy; comprehensive sexuality education; safe abortion; gender-based violence; HIV and AIDS; child marriages; economic justice; COVID19 and key populations; gender, governance and COVID19; and gender, media and COVID19.
The audio excerpts will be accompanied by a set of guidelines that will include key questions and guidelines on how to run the talk-show. The talk-show will include panels of local experts to address questions raised.
Gathering digital stories
The COVID19 pandemic has impacted on people’s in a number of ways. GL will gather first-hand accounts or “I” stories from the different groups it works with. The stories will provide an understanding of the impact of the COVID19. The stories and an analysis of the impact will be published on the GL website.
The “I” stories will be gathered from amongst other entrepreneurs who are part of GL Sunrise campaign, journalists, women politicians, local councils and young people.
Information, education and communication (IEC) materials
GL will develop and set of generic fact sheets for the ten thematic areas that will be available in high resolution online in the GL Gender and COVID19 help desk. These may be downloaded, customised (may be translated into local languages, etc.) and produced in country.
The key messages in the for the strategy include:
|1. Maternal and menstrual health|
||Safe SRH services for all.
Free sanitary ware.
Water and sanitation are my rights.
Contraception is critical
|2. Teenage pregnancy|
||Access to SRHR and contraception
My body my decision
|3. Comprehensive sexuality education|
All young people have a right to CSE.
Young people have a right to privacy.
Make your voice heard.
My life my choice
|4. Safe abortion|
My body my choice.
I decide if, when and how I have a child.
Safe abortion is a right.
|5. Gender-based violence|
||End GBV now.
Access to justice and reporting must be in place.
Zero tolerance to GBV.
|6. HIV and AIDS|
ARVs and SRHR must be easily available.
Provide HIV testing and the provision of PEP
|7. Child marriages|
||Protect the girl child.
Let us work together to end child marriages.
|8. Economic justice|
Economic power to end gender violence.
Build women entrepreneurs.
Equal access to economic opportunities.
|9. COVID19 and key populations|
||All citizens are equal and have a right to protection.
Access to health is a right.
Economic power for women is key for gender equality.
|10. Gender, climate change and COVID19|
||Food security equals healthy citizens.
Women need time to grow food and tend crops.
Support women in agriculture.
|11. Gender, governance and COVID19|
||50/50 in all areas of decision-making.
Feminist leadership to manage COVID 19.
Gender responsive leadership for better SRHR.
|12. Gender, media and COVID19|
||Make every voice count on COVID19.
Make the gender and SRHR links with COVID19.
Information is my right.
- Media articles on gender, SRHR and COVID19.
- Audio programmes to be utilised in country to generate discussion on gender, SRHR and COVID19.
- IEC materials on gender and COVID19.
- Summaries of gender and COVID19 virtual discussions.
- First-hand accounts of the impact of COVID19.
- Gender is mainstreamed in media coverage on COVID19.
- Awareness raised on the differential impact COVID 19 women and men.
- Understanding of the impact of COVID19 on particular groups including the media, women entrepreneurs, local government and young people.
- Strategic interventions for COOVID19 includes gender and responses to SRHR.