Protecting African Women from a “Shadow Pandemic” Amid COVID-19
By 2063, The African Union (AU) hopes to accomplish a “socio-economic transformation” across the continent where poverty is eradicated. This is impossible without achieving gender inequality. Although Africa has made significant progress toward this foreseeable future, progress is still painfully slow. Several countries’ progress is stagnant and only addresses the issue by “acknowledging” that girls’ and women’s empowerment is key to improving Africa’s economy. There are many factors prolonging the AU’s vision coming to fruition. Some of the significant factors are violence against women in Africa and the perpetuation of poverty in the continent. Now, with COVID-19, violence against women or the “shadow pandemic” in Africa is reported at a higher number than before, possibly undoing all the continent’s progress.
The Gender Gap and Violence against Women
Violence against women in Africa is primarily fueled by the “gender gap,” which is the difference in opportunities, status and attitudes between men and women. This gap fosters violence against women. Unfortunately, violence is so embedded within African culture that 51% of women’s reported beatings from their husbands are justified.
This attitude toward women promotes poverty because it denies basic human rights and support for mental and economic hardship. Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s population, yet only contribute approximately 33% of the continent’s domestic gross product (GDP). As a result, Africa loses approximately $95 billion each year due to the gender gap.
The “Shadow Pandemic”
Africa has called the violence against women an epidemic long before COVID-19. However, violence against women in Africa has been on an alarming rise since the start of COVID-19 and the subsequential lockdowns. The United Nations calls it a “shadow pandemic,” or “in the shadow of the pandemic.”
During COVID-19, countries across the continent have reported much higher cases of violence. In Kenya, nearly 4,000 girls became pregnant during the lockdown from sexual assault. The main issue is that women and girls have such low status in Africa. Women are seen as easily disposable objects for men’s use and pleasure. With the loss of jobs, decreasing resources and being contained inside homes for lockdowns, women are at the mercy of husbands, fathers or other males living in their homes.
Organizations Fighting to End Violence Against Women in Africa
Several organizations have risen up to end the violence against women in Africa. These organizations are working hard to protect and empower women with economic opportunities. Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are a couple of organizations that are doing tremendous work to lead Africa into their 2063 vision amid COVID-19.
Spotlight Initiative is a partnership between the United Nations and European Union, whose goals are to eradicate violence against women by 2030. It is the largest global initiative working to eliminate violence against women and girls. Currently, the Spotlight Initiative advocates for interventions for African women, such as integrating prevention efforts for violence against women in COVID-19 response plans and addressing gender gaps in legislation and policy on COVID-19.
Alliances for Africa (AfA) is an international African-led organization advocating for human rights, peace and sustainable development. Its vision is to contribute to eliminating the causes of poverty in Africa. The organization’s six focus areas are poverty, hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender inequality and clean water and sanitation. All of these focus areas are a part of the AU’s 2063 agenda mentioned earlier. AfA partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa to support 120 rural women farmers during COVID-19. Each woman could revive and sustain their production, have access to markets and stay informed on COVID-19 preventive measures.
Countries worldwide are struggling to manage the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, issues like violence against women have risen during the COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting millions of women around the world. In Africa, the “shadow pandemic” is a growing concern amid an unprecedented crisis. Organizations like Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are working to alleviate the “shadow pandemic” but there is still much to be done to end violence against women and achieve gender equality. African governments and humanitarian organizations must continue their efforts to save women from facing another epidemic amid COVID-19.
– LaCherish Thompson