The African average gender score worsened by -0.2 between 2010 and 2019. The decline was driven by deterioration in the key indicators: laws on violence against women, and to a lesser extent, equal civil liberties for women.
However, between 2015 and 2019, the score increased by +0.2. The rise can be credited to the improvement in the political power, representation of women, access to public services and a slower decline in the laws on violence against women.
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The current pandemic is threatening to sabotage this achievement of years of advocacy from stakeholders fighting that African women have an equal playing ground. The pandemic has had a fatal impact on the health, as well as the economic and social wellbeing of women and girls in Africa. These factors show that Africa’s response to COVID-19 must respect the gender impact of the pandemic.
The economic and financial effects of COVID-19 have been gendered. One of the factors driving this is that women dominate the low-paying informal sector of Africa – tourism, retail services, air travel, etc. About 92 per cent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal sector.
These types of jobs are often not legally and socially protected. They also lack other job entitlements such as pension and health insurance. These kinds of jobs are prone to more disruptions during public health emergencies. This has exposed women to more income losses during the pandemic. The number of women living on less than $1.90 a day in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 is 132 million compared to 124 million men.
Even though women represent a little percentage of Africa’s formal sector, they dominate the frontline response to the pandemic. Women constitute over 60 per cent of the health workforce and essential service providers in Africa. With women dominating the health workforce, there is an increased risk of them being exposed to COVID-19 frontline activities when compared to their male counterparts.
Movement regulations and stay-at-home laws at work have caused increased sexual and gender-based violence. For instance, domestic violence across six Sahel countries increased from 40.63 per cent before the pandemic to 52.18 per cent during COVID-19;, demonstrating an increased rate of 11.55 percentage points. The saddening part of this is that it is happening at a time when there has been reduced access to support and emergency services.
Other factors such as socio-economic status, age and disability triggered by the pandemic have contributed to the rising number of sexual and gender-based violence. Age has indeed played a role in the escalation of sexual harassment. Close to one million girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will likely not have the opportunity of returning to school when the pandemic ends.
These challenges necessitate that the response by relevant stakeholders, governments and the private sector, must be tailor-streamed to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the female gender. One of the solutions will be to identify women trapped at home by the lockdown restrictions through community collaboration. Also, models for reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence must be developed. Such models must be easy and safe as possible to protect the lives of the victims involved. The government must also find flexible working schedules for women working at the frontlines. The financial tolls of the pandemic can be reduced by support from the public and private sectors both in cash and kind.
The recent success in closing gaps on gender inequality in Africa must not be allowed to be blown by the pandemic. African leaders should prioritise the female gender in their response to the pandemic.
By Nicholas Aderinto, who is a fellow at African Liberty.