July 31 African Women’s Day: Top 7 Impacts Of The COVID-19 Crisis On West African Women And 7 West African Organizations’ Pro-posed Solutions
July 30, 2020 – To mark African Women’s Day on July 31st, seven West African organizations and international charities Oxfam and CARE are highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women in West Africa and the experiences, ideas and proposed solutions around 7 identified priorities, by and for women in the region.
“In this crisis affecting West Africa, West African women are on the front line and more strongly impacted either directly or indirectly by the harsh reality of the pandemic and its daily consequences.” said the seven organisations of WILDAF, ROPPA, RBM, WANEP, REPSFECO, APESS and ROALJEF-Mali.
But far from admitting defeat, West African women are adapting, increasing their ingenuity and putting in place solutions to help with their families’ and communities’ daily survival. The role of governments is crucial to advancing these advanced solutions, which would change the daily lives of millions of women in the region.
Because they occupy the most vulnerable positions in the formal sector and make up the major part of the informal sector in West Africa, especially in agriculture, women are losing out financially during this crisis. In Niger for example, many women had to sell their stores of cereals before the lean season between harvests to meet the needs of their communities, thus losing significant profits and reserves for the lean period. In the short term, it is essential to set up emergency and recovery funds for women’s cooperatives and for women working in the informal sector.
Women are historically at the forefront of resolving food crises in West Africa. Not only are they in charge of providing for their families, but they are also an important part of the agricultural workforce. In times of food crises, women are the first to sacrifice themselves and ration food to help children. Girls are often at a greater disadvantage than boys at mealtimes. Given the threats of food insecurity in West Africa, regional governments must quickly mobilise resources to deal with it. Food distributions must be put in place to support the most vulnerable and subsidise basic necessities.
Consultations carried out by the organisations with women show that women and girls face difficulties accessing social services during this crisis. The organisations recommend awareness-raising and information campaigns to communicate about access to health care and about health rights, and the recruitment of more female health personnel.
Women and girls lack information during this crisis and need more awareness sessions with health workers so that they can access quality, clear and reliable information about the disease and treatment.
The increase in vulnerability and gender-based violence is universal. Now more than ever, much greater efforts are needed to support women and ensure they are safe, informed, and can seek justice. The crisis also illustrates the weight of social norms in the inequalities between men and women but also constitutes an opportunity to change them. For the first time, the new situation that confinement has caused men to be at home more. In some cases, this has led to a better understanding of existing inequalities and the daily burdens of women, and provides an opportunity to capitalize on exposing this reality. It is important to educate men and women about gender equality and women’s and girl’s rights to start deconstructing negative social norms and reducing gender inequalities.
Whether at community or national level, women are not sufficiently integrated into decision-making spaces on crisis management, despite being on the front lines of operational management during the crisis, as health workers, mothers or heads of families. In Senegal, only five of the 30 members of the FORCE COVID-19 monitoring committee are women. Governments must take measures to ensure that women are represented and participate effectively in decision-making spaces on crisis management, for example by establishing quotas for women when selecting members of decision-making bodies.
Beyond regional governments’ commitments, international community support is also crucial due to the pandemic occurring within several humanitarian crises, including those affecting displaced populations that are mainly made up of women who were already very vulnerable.
“The world of tomorrow must be built by and for West African women and girls, and for this we need the support and commitment of our governments. West African women want to make their voice heard and actively participate in the management of the health and social crisis, to act for society. Taking our realities into account means making sure to build together a world of tomorrow that is better and more equal for all”, said the organizations.