NELISA NGQULANA: Washing own mask makes women less vulnerable to COVID-19
Women have been identified by many governments as vulnerable citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, many women participate in the informal economic sector, which is closed or only partially operational during various levels of lockdown that are and will still be implemented to ease the risk of infection.
South Africa has implemented various relief measures to assist citizens - and women in particular - including the social relief of distress grant - the stimulus packages that government has made available to rescue ailing business are gender sensitive and ensure that support is concentrated where it is most needed.
COVID-19 is among the many pandemics that African women have had to face. HIV/Aids, Ebola and even lesser known Lassa fever have had dire consequences for women and these often expose the vulnerabilities of women and inequalities in society.
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) published an article on their website on 29 April 2020 stating, “The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating many of the factors that intersect to increase the risk for interpersonal violence, and in particular intimate partner violence. Reports from around the world reflect that gender-based violence [GBV] has increased during lockdown, with women unable to escape from perpetrators.”
Government’s response to this pandemic should continuously be gender sensitive. The discussion on the impact of the lockdown on women in homes where GBV is prevalent is a necessary debate, since only 10% to 14% of GBV is normally reported. It is important that all statistics on cases reported to primary service providers are captured and are shared in one portal in order to find solutions towards eradication of GBV. There must be evidence that women are having access to justice during the lockdown.
The United Nations (UN) issued a policy brief to guide governments on the gender lens towards COVID-19. The brief emphasises standard practices for women's inclusion, such as ensuring that women have equal representation during all COVID-19 planning and decision making, while also targeting women and girls in all efforts to address the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.
Our own response has been guided by the need to support the most vulnerable in a gender responsive manner. Among the many regulations that have been passed; it is notable that the opening up of informal trading, spaza shops and kiosks, and the movement of children with shared parenting are providing relief to women. However, women in the care sector still remain vulnerable as they may not be covered under the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and often work as casual workers who earn below the minimum wage.
As masks are now compulsory, it would be useful to heed the call by the co-chairperson of the Interim Steering Committee on Gender Based Violence, Olive Shisana, made in a webinar hosted during the level 5 lockdown hosted by UN Women South Africa. She made it clear that all members of a household of eligible age be responsible for washing their masks as women should not carry the burden of transmission due to washing masks for their entire household.
The call is to ensure that even in the day-to-day living with COVID-19, stereotypes or gendered roles should not make women more vulnerable to transmission of COVID-19.
Continuous advocacy for gendered planning and socio-economic responses is imperative. COVID-19 provides governments’ with an opportunity to understand their policy planning social protection response in a gendered manner. There has to be gender aggregation of data to measure the socio-economic responses and verify if they were not skewed towards any gender.
Nelisa Ngqulana is the Head of Communications and Public Awareness for the Community Constituency Covid-19 Front.