It is beyond a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has created and exacerbated various problems across the world. It has prevented millions of students from pursuing their education, pressured markets and supply chains to disconnect, triggered psychological distress to rise, and so on and so forth. Above all, the repercussions of the pandemic specifically on women and girls have been massive.
SIHA, a Strategic Initiative for women in the Horn of Africa, has carried out a research on the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda. The findings have been published as a briefing paper entitled “WE DEMAND CHANGE: Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the Greater Horn of Africa during COVID-19”.
While all sectors of society are involved in the response against the pandemic, the governments across the globe took the leading role in the overall coordination and communication efforts. In the briefing paper, six identified characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic responses by national governments were discussed to highlight their impact specifically on women and girls in the Greater Horn of Africa.
While some of the responses against the pandemic include curfew/lockdown orders, hand washing directives, but lack gender-sensitive approach. Even though these instructions limit virus transmission; each had its own adverse effect on women and girls in the greater horn of Africa.
Due to the lock-down, women were cut off from their usual support systems such as close friends and families. The school closure directive also makes matters worse specifically for women. While parents are at work, little girls are left in the house alone, which increases the risk of violence of any kind. One of the girls I personally met in Addis Ababa and had talks with told me that “In addition to the stressful situation at home, we didn’t have our friends to cope up with our unpleasant environment at home”.
Hand washing directives were the most popular instructions on Television and Radio. However, it seems like we have forgotten the task of fetching water is allocated solely to women especially in the rural parts of the country. This means that women may walk for hours more frequently, which increases the likelihood of violence, especially in the form of sexual offense. Unfortunately, the rules and regulations put forward by governments did not put women and girls into account.
This paper not only listed the non-gender-sensitive approaches of the national governments but included context-specific findings from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia-Somaliland, South Sudan, and Sudan. Under the Context-Specific findings of Ethiopia, multiple concerns were cited. One of which was full lockdown; the ban of gatherings has negatively affected the incomes of women working in the informal sector.
According to UNICEF, Ethiopian women are overrepresented in the country’s informal sector. As women are present in an overwhelming amount in the informal economy, the lockdown/curfew completely ceased their income source. As a result, they have been affected the most by the lockdown/ curfew orders. One of the interviewed women stated that “I sell tea, coffee, and food to students, teachers and government employees, but now that schools are closed no one comes to buy things from me”.
Furthermore, the number of gender-based violence reports has increased dramatically. The Addis Ababa Women and Children’s Affairs Bureau on televised interview stated that “More than 100 girls have been raped since the outbreak of COVID-19″, which authorities attribute to school closures. Similarly, the Amhara Bureau of Women Children and Youth Affairs has reported child marriage in the region during the pandemic. According to the Bureau, they have intervened to stop 540 child marriages during the pandemic.
As it has been pointed out, national governments have taken multiple measures to control COVID-19 cases. However, these measures were not gender conscious. This is to say that the directives did not take into account the repercussions the response against the pandemic causes on women and girls. When school closes, girls are locked in the same house as the perpetrators. When hand washing directives are advocated, the responsibility of fetching water completely falls on the shoulder of women, which exposes them to gender-based violence.
Governments should have anticipated these problems, and advocated against GBV from the word “go”. However, most governments including the Ethiopian government did not put the effect of the responses on women and girls in the equation. Our national government should have established advocacy groups to teach the community that gender-based violence is a crime, or set up a system such as a hotline for victims to report their case or other individuals who suspect this type of violence in their community.
A special police force should have been set up to prevent, investigate, and make a case against criminals of this type. Moreover, one stop centers, which provide psychological, medical and legal aid for rape victim’s, should have been strengthened by adding human power such as lawyers, psychologists and medical professionals.
Similarly, prophylaxis medications such as contraceptives should have been provided in advance in the anticipation of the rise of numbers of gender based violence, GBV. Since the governments failed to protect women and girls in such ways, the pandemic has been leaving them with devastating effect to deal.
Certainly, it is everyone’s obligation to stand against the problem and be part of the solution.and the government should give a special attention to this issue.