How COVID-19 affects the lives of women and girls severely

How COVID-19 affects the lives of women and girls severely

The world is currently swept up in a storm, with COVID-19 forcing countries into lockdowns of various degrees. World populations have been affected differently, and yet of the different groups within a society impacted, women and girls may be the most affected. Crises impact the lives of women and girls disproportionately, and a crisis of this scale has severe ramifications on their lives; their safety, health, education, reproductive health and earning capacity. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex. According to the UN, Early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men. But the pandemic is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-19. The virus was first detected in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei Province of China in December 2019. On January 30 this year, the World Health Organisation declared it a “public health emergency of international concern”, and on March 11, WHO declared it a pandemic. Zimbabwe recorded its first confirmed case on March 20. On the 27th of March, the president of the country declared the disease a national disaster and announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, later extended by another 4  weeks.

The lockdown declared most activities, except essential services and the production of essential goods, illegal. Schools, markets, businesses, companies and organizations closed down. Church services, weddings, and a host of other activities were banned. Movement for the majority of the population was severely limited.

Affected earning capacity


While this undoubtedly affects everyone, women and girls will feel the impact harder than the male population. Without the freedom to continue earning their income through trade, mothers and female providers are more easily exploited in exchange for goods or money. In the absence of legitimate ways of earning an income, young girls and women resort to prostitution, exposing themselves to disease, assault and unfair compensation for services rendered.

In the face of an illness that requires social distancing, close contact behaviour only places women at risk of acquiring COVID-19 along with STIs. For girls, child labour is a real threat with levels of unemployment sky-rocketing. Zimbabwe already has a high rate, but with disrupted trade and supply chains because of travel restrictions, businesses are affected, and employees are often the first to suffer. In an effort to contribute to the household income, girls may be forced into selling cheap labour.

Exposure to gender-based violence


Forcing nations into lockdown may slow the spread of the virus and buy countries time to capacitate their health systems, but women and girls pay heavily for the ‘greater good approach’. Those who live in abusive homes are now continuously forced to be in the presence of their abusers with no reprieve. With the focus entirely on COVID-19, will any resources be spared by local authorities to fight gender-based violence? Will they prioritize cases of abuse or assault when they are reported?

Increase in duties


As women and girls tend to fill in the role of caregiver and homemaker, their duties are likely to increase if a family member becomes ill with COVID-19 or any other non-fatal illness. With health ministries’ discouraging people from visiting hospitals and encouraging people with mild COVID-19 symptoms to stay home and avoid overwhelming the health system, young female members of the household may find themselves sacrificing their education to look after a sick parent, sibling or relative.

This means that even when the world returns to a form of normalcy, these girls and young women are unlikely to return to the lives they knew and will lose the hope of a future they had. Women are also likely to give up their careers temporarily or step back from their enterprises to cater to a sick family member, and it may be challenging to get back on track after the family member recovers or dies.

Traditionally considered as hewers of wood and drawers of water, the search for water for domestic use has been increasingly feminized. Women constitute the biggest number of people crowding water points all over the world, and they invest many hours queuing for the precious liquid. Many households need an average of 200 litres of water per day for bathing, cooking and ablution purposes.

In Zimbabwe, most city and town councils are struggling to provide running water for residents, the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has increased the demand for water. But with huge numbers crowding the few available water points (community boreholes) in areas where council water is not available, implementing social distancing – classified as one of the ways to minimize potential transmission – becomes almost impossible and women are extremely exposed to the virus.

Neo-natal and maternal health care


Maternal health care is another aspect of women’s lives that has taken a hit because of COVID-19. Governments are diverting resources towards managing the pandemic, and as a result, other crucial health services are often side-lined. In Zimbabwe, women living in remote areas are likely to feel the impact more than women in peri-urban and urban centres. Clinics in rural areas sometimes rely on donor funding, but with the imposed movement restriction, it would be difficult to transport resources to these areas. At the time of writing, April 2020, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are only permitted to continue operations in food distribution and COVID-19 related movement.

In the case of Zimbabwe, without adequate maternal health care, women are in danger of dying during or after childbirth, there could be an increase in infant mortality, and in the transmission of HIV from mother to child. The consequences of COVID-19 and local government’s response to it could see women die from non-COVID related issues.

Sanitary ware


Lastly, girls in disadvantaged settings in rural Zimbabwe who rely on donated sanitary wear may not be able to receive their supplies because of the quarantine and diversion of resources. With organizations focusing on the pandemic, it is quite easy to forget other obligations. On the other hand, donations could start to decrease because all the attention is currently taken up elsewhere. It is difficult to fundraise when the world’s attention is entirely absorbed by another problem that also demands money and resources.

While the world is focusing on the COVID-19 death toll and fast spread, other areas of people’s lives are suffering because of it. Women and girls will suffer the most like they usually do in most crises, as studies have shown. We must not forget them; neither can we allow the progress we have made so far to disappear under the shadow of a pandemic.

What Tariro has been doing to help the situation?

COVID-19 is not only challenging global health systems and economies, but it is also testing our common humanity. Through a grant from Kutsinhira Arts Cultural Centre (United States) we have provided cash transfers to the families of the girls we support so that they can be able to buy basic commodities such as food and sanitary ware. Due to the depressed economy most people have turned to informal employment and the lockdown has cut them off from their livelihood. One of the beneficiaries of the cash transfers had this to say

Things were pretty hard for us and we did not know how we were going to survive during this lockdown as we rely on odd jobs and vending in town.  In as much as the lockdown is to protect people, my fear is no longer on the disease but it is now with the long layoff because it has put my life and that of people I support in danger there is nothing that I can do. We are really grateful for the support from Tariro, as we are now able to put food on the table.

Schools have been closed indefinitely and indications are that schools will only re-open in August and the learning process might go the e-learning way. Online classes aren’t the answer for everyone yet, especially disadvantaged children. But we hope to play our part by slowly improving access to education using everyday technology during this lockdown. Funds permitting we hope to provide the girls with internet compatible gadgets as well provide them with internet data.

We are constantly in contact with the girls and their families through cell phone calls and messages.

We continue to ask for your support during this crisis and way beyond.  Any support is greatly appreciated and will go a long way in ensuring our mission of educating and empowering the girl child as well as ensuring their emotional well-being is in the right place

Tariro remains fully committed to our mission of supporting education and the psycho-social needs for our girls Help us fulfil this mission by donating to Tariro.


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