Women and the Return to Poverty
According to UN Women, the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line, 59 percent of which live in sub-Saharan Africa, reversing decades of progress to eradicate extreme poverty. While women's rights are already suppressed across the world, the pandemic has exacerbated these situations in the region during lockdowns and in an absence of adequate response. The unabated rise of gender inequalities such as burdens of running a household, spousal abandonment, loss of work and income, lack of access to healthcare in relation to reproductive health, among others have led to a ripple effect on the societies at large. In addition, with the closure of schools, the reports of adolescent pregnancies, child and forced marriages in sub-Saharan countries have also sky-rocketed.
From this stems a need to host a discussion on the measures to address the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown, which has put women and girls in more vulnerable positions and let them slide into poverty further. The main objectives of the webinar were to voice the experiences of women and girls during a pandemic, as well as to discuss strategies for smart, affordable, and urgent choices that public policy practitioners can make to reverse the impact of the pandemic on women and girls.
Dr. Fidelis Allen– Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote – Founding Research Director of (IELRC), and the Programme Director for Africa.
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– When I saw women’s return to poverty, I actually wondered whether women had left poverty because looking at the context in which we are discussing women’s rights in Kenya, it’s not encouraging for Kenya has a gender inequality value of 0.59 ranking it at 137 out of 160 countries in the 2017 index. Only 23% of parliamentary seats are held by women, 29.2% of adult women have reached a secondary education compared to 36.6% of men. Women account for 48.7% of Kenya’s labor force and female labor participation is at 63.6% compared to 69% of men and also 64% of female workers on a full-time basis and 26% work 40- 48 hours a week. 62% of female workers are part-time and gender income differentials are very common in the Kenyan context (Time frame from minute 09:10- 11:10)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– Women and girls in Kenya have historically and traditionally faced discrimination on the basis of gender and Covid- 19 is a vulnerability and threat multiplier. (Time frame from minute 13:19- 13:32)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– Covid- 19 has worsened the situation of women and girls and the impact will come to be known years into the future. Even though Kenya has obligations and international regional instruments as well as the constitution to protect and promote women's human rights the country has been struggling to fulfill those obligations. (Time frame from minute 14:01- 14:22)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– The measures that the government has taken to deal with the pandemic are focused around the pandemic as opposed to the people, when you focus on the pandemic instead of the people, you are less likely to take into account the needs of the people and the measures also affect men and women differently. (Time frame from minute 16:34- 17:06)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– When talking about women and the return to poverty, you are looking at a context within which women are already behind, so Covid-19 becomes an issue that complicates their situation. (Time frame from minute 17:13- 17:30)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– When measures are taken to open the economy, they deal with bigger businesses rather than the micro, small and medium enterprises where there are many women, so the women don’t get to benefit. (Time frame from minute 19:20- 19:33)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– The measures to Covid-19 created whether at the county level or government levels have increased the burden of care work, they have put a burden on women for water and hygiene in home settings, they have upset the family equilibrium due to the restriction of movements and working from home, they have reduced income and women haven’t benefited from the economic stimulus packages and credit guarantee schemes, there have also been increased incidences in gender and sexual violence, domestic violence of which limit women’s economic potential and there has been throwbacks in the gains made in protecting the girl child due to increased FGM cases, child marriages, early and unplanned pregnancies which eventually have an impact on girls when schools re-open. (Time frame from minute 20:30- 21:36)
Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote– There is a need for the national and county governments to develop and implement gender response mechanisms to the pandemic and pass comprehensive legislation addressing disasters, pandemics, and syndemics, we also need to address gender equality more generally as part of disaster and pandemic and syndemics preparedness mechanism. (Time frame from minute 22:49- 23:11)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- Even if more data is needed to fully understand the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls in sub- Saharan Africa, situation reports from media analysis and academic literature suggest on equal impact from individual countries policy responses on women and men and threat of women's’ return to extreme poverty in ways that clearly spot previous research. (Time frame from minute 25:23- 26:01)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- Increased cases of rape and other forms of violence against women and the general expansion of inequality across the country have been observed in Nigeria. (Time frame from minute 32:15- 32:34)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- More than 425 million women and girls will live in less than 1.9 dollars day to day by 2021 out of which 47 million will be living in extreme poverty. (Time frame from minute 33:38- 33:56)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- Women and girls are far more prone to loss of income from crisis because of the nature of the labor workforce in Africa, they are mostly in the informal sector of which is not captured in the gross domestic products of countries. (Time frame from minute 34:50- 35:25)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- As country governments across Africa begun different lockdown and restriction measures to check the spread of the virus, a majority of those affected almost immediately were women whose livelihood and family well- being have depended largely on a daily income from informal sectors. (Time frame from minute 35:28- 35:51)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- The World Bank has warned that the pandemic will intensify poverty in the developing world, an indisputable suggestion that women have been the face of poverty in Africa, by adding 47 million women into the class of the poor and taking the total number of women living in poverty globally to 425 million, the pandemic makes a huge negative impact with Africa the hardest hit across the continent, the pandemic is worsening women poverty conditions in areas of limited access to economic opportunities. (Time frame from minute 36:51- 37:30)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- Studies show that women are more likely to lose jobs compared to men because of the inherent gender employment structures of organizations with more men in management positions than women. (Time frame from minute 37:54- 38:09)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- Governments even those in the developed countries lack a human rights approach in dealing with gender inequalities, providing health services and the pandemic has exposed these inequalities which it seems like an opportunity to insist on a human rights approach in dealing with these issues. (Time frame from minute 47:37- 48:00)
Dr. Fidelis Allen- When countries don’t take time to plan for their health systems, pandemics create chaotic situations that would make it impossible for whatever emergency responses to work. (Time frame from minute 57:05- 57:33)
Prof. Yasmine Ergas- The pandemic has laid bare underlying inequalities including in relation to the capacity to influence policy. (Time frame from minute 1:02:33- 1:02:44)
Prof. Yasmine Ergas- The issue of how the human rights perspective could help inform a different approach to policy is really crucial. (Time frame from minute 1:17:40- 1:18:04)