Kenya: Gender Ministers Strategize on Post-Covid-19 Recovery

Florian helping her daughter Sheila Achieng do her revision at home in Kibera as schools are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic (file photo).
14 September 2020

Women and girls globally have been the major casualties of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

From increased gender-based violence (GBV), sexual violence to loss of employment and businesses, women have been more disadvantaged than the men during this period.

It is for this reason that Commonwealth member countries held a virtual meeting for Gender and Women's Affairs ministers on the impact of the pandemic.

The themes of the meeting were; Covid-19, Gender and Leadership, Covid-19 and Ending Violence against Women and Girls, Building forwards a better post Covid-19: Ensuring Women's Economic Empowerment and Covid-19 Gender and Climate Change.

The meeting chaired by Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Public Service and Gender Professor Margret Kobia and attended by 54 member states, was also attended by Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Honorable Patricia Scotland.

Recovery period

She provided a platform for ministers to share their countries' experiences with Covid-19 and in particular, its impact on women and how they are re-building in ways that take into account a gender sensitive response.

The meeting also addressed the structural and systematic changes needed to tackle gender inequality as well as what needs to be done to quickly bring women and girls back on their feet post-Covid recovery period.

Prof Kobia said the pandemic is not just a health issue but also an economic issue with women at the heart of care and response efforts.

"In Kenya, women are playing a key role in responding to the pandemic as decision-makers, caregivers, frontline health workers, community leaders and mobilisers, often at a great risk to their health," said Prof Kobia.

Affordable credit

She added that the government has put in place measures to promote women economic empowerment which include access to affordable credit facilitation for women through Women Enterprise Fund and National Government Affirmative Action Fund (NGAAF).

The CS observed that the commonwealth member States put women leaders at the centre of Covid-19 pandemic response and post-recovery measures.

She added that the member States need to classify gender-based violence related services as essential and allocate adequate resources to address the prevention and response to GBV.

"Commonwealth member States post-Covid-19 recovery strategies should mitigate the pandemic's impact on enterprises and employment, with a tailored and gender responsive approach to reaching women-owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including in supply chains, as well as hard-hit sectors and occupations where women are over-represented," said the CS.

Kenyan paper

She added that there is need for member States to enhance women's representation in decision-making spaces and facilitate the establishment of gender-responsive social infrastructure including climate-resilient, agriculture, access to water and sanitation.

Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Public Service and Gender Rachel Shebesh who presented the Kenyan paper, highlighted the impact of the pandemic on women and girls, and the measures the government has taken to minimise suffering.

Kenya, like many other countries, is no exception when it comes to gender-based violence due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Shebesh noted that through women leadership at various levels, States and non-State actors, GBV has become an integral component of the Covid-19 response.

"We have strengthened the medical-legal response to GBV, enhanced and publicised the national toll-free helpline 1195, and rolled out a public awareness campaign on prevention and response to gender violence," she said.

Defeat virus

The CAS added that the government has created employment for women and young people through local manufacturing of face masks more so for those in informal settlements.

Ms Scotland noted that despite all the focus, effort and resources being used to defeat the virus, there is little attention on the diverse and devastating impact that the crisis is having upon women and girls.

"Our purpose in convening this meeting is to address the distinctive and very particular impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on women and girls," she said.

Both Prof Kobia and Ms Scotland called on member States to focus on setting up ministerial action groups, which as a key commitment, was made when the meeting was convened in Kenya last year.

African region

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in June raised concerns over the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on women and girls as it continues to spread in African continent.

WHO noted that although overall in the African region, women account for around 40 per cent of Covid-19 cases, this ranges from 35 per cent in some countries to over 55 per cent in South Africa.

According to a recent World Bank report, the economic hardship due to Covid-19 is also greater for women.

The report also indicates informal workers, most of whom are women, account for more than 90 per cent of the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa. Informal sector jobs are particularly at risk during the pandemic.

Create tension

An estimated 740 million women are employed in the informal economy. In developing nations, such work constitutes more than two-thirds of female employment.

But as countries all over the world locked down to curb the spread of the pandemic, these jobs quickly disappeared.

A recent study by UN Women also found that reports of violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries as security, health, and financial worries create tensions and strains accentuated by the cramped and confined living conditions of lockdown.

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