Africa: An Urgent Call for a Gendered Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

press release

The Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD) welcomes the Government of Zimbabwe's introduction of a 21-Days-National-Lockdown from March 30 2020. The action came timely as evidence from countries in the East, West and parts of Africa has demonstrated that one of the ways to miminise the devastating effects of the pandemic is through social distancing and other practices recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, as advocates of the full implementation of devolution as a tool for reaching out to marginalized communities; fostering public accountability and ensuring improved Gender Responsive Social Services Delivery (GRSSD), we note with grave concern the lack of an evident devolved approach to strategising, awareness raising and adherence to risk management measures in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently declared a state of emergency in Zimbabwe.

A snapshot survey conducted by IYWD between 25 and 30 March 2020, with young women and general citizens in rural, farming and mining communities in Mashonaland Central and parts of Mashonaland East and Midlands provinces revealed the following worrisome points:

A huge information gap on awareness and precautionary measures to protect themselves from contracting/spreading the virus.

There are no handwashing / sanitising points at community boreholes and equally the girls, young women and women fetching the water lack protective clothing such as mask and gloves

Traditional Leaders have been put on the frontlines of responding to the pandemic through awareness raising and communication with the citizens, the Provincial Coordination Committee and Health officials handling Covid-19 cases

On 28 and 29 March 2020 big numbers of people travelled to their rural homes following the announcement of the 21Days Lockdown. This poses additional constraints to already constrained health-care systems in the remote communities, food insecurity and sanitation services given the current state of public services delivery.

This reality undoubtedly increases the burden of girls, young women and women and heightens their vulnerability as they are still expected to care for the families during the lockdown and the entire period of fighting this pandemic. We are therefore urgently asking the government to rise to the situation and play its stately duties to:

Activate the devolved structures of governance to raise awareness on the pandemic and precautionary measures that families can take to prevent themselves from contracting/spreading Covid-19 infection. With limited access to radio, television and internet-based media in remote communities there is urgent need for alternative ways of sharing information.

Provide devolved structures with necessary preventive clothing (masks and gloves) and handwashing detergents for distribution and use at community boreholes

Ensure that health officials team up with professional Civil Protection Unit (CPU) teams to support communities with factual information, updates and follow up on suspected cases of Covid-19 instead of burdening Traditional Leaders with health-related work they are not trained on.

Ensure food security throughout the Lockdown and at least one month after the lockdown for all families in the remote communities through door-to-door fair distribution of food aid by devolved governance structures and/or CPU teams in partnership with known and non-partisan local humanitarian advocates

Decentralise and equip Covid-19 testing and isolation centres to ensure that there is at least one clinic/health centre in each ward providing such services.

Deploy buses and ensure that they are equipped with sanitising and preventive clothing to carry any suspected patients to health centres where they can get help

Ensure that non-functioning boreholes are urgently fixed to ensure constant supply of water adequate enough to meet the needs of the increased population in the rural areas during the Lockdown

Health practitioners should physically monitor compliance to safety measures at funerals

Funerals Assurance companies must provide disinfectants, handwashing utilities and sanitisers

We do believe that the timely responsiveness of the government to mobilise and ensure that the above recommendations are acted upon will go a long way towards reducing the burden of Covid-19 on girls, young women and women. It also reduces the vulnerability of the same from contracting/spreading the infection by caring for the sick at home.

Source: Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD)

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