There is no doubt on anyone’s mind that COVID-19 is quite the storm. Strong, nondiscriminatory, and devastating. It is not only a healthcare problem but also social, political, and economic. The pandemic came and scuttled everything the world knew, and it will take a long time for us to collectively recover if ever.
Everyone was hit hard. But for purposes of this article, we are going to talk about women and how their lives were turned upside down in just about every sector of their lives. The effects of COVID-19 can barely be exhausted in one article. If anything, even many years and many articles to come, one can only scratch the surface. But we shall look at some of the glaring effects that the pandemic is leaving in its wake even if it has not yet left us completely.
Around 65% of the informal sector in the country is driven by women. These are women who are able to make hand to mouth money and feed their families. With the coming of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns, curfews and severely curtailed public transport, business operations became almost impossible to run. This obviously had adverse effects on women who are a majority in SMEs and one only needs to look at the secondhand clothes sector, the food vendor sector, and the hair dressing sector to get a glimpse of the real picture.
We are not ignoring the corporate women either because we know that as many companies buckled under the stress of the pandemic, many of them lost their jobs and therefore have no paychecks to look forward to. There are also those in the service industry like hotels and restaurants which suffered quite a blow after the safety guidelines took effect. The export industry also has its own story to tell, an example being the cut flowers for example. All these women who work or worked there have suffered untold economic downfalls.
By extension, the banning of gatherings as social distancing directives took effect dealt a blow to major markets, mama mbogas, and even on the trusted chamaas which is where women meet to support one another’s saving culture through table banking.
Mothers and pregnant women
The pandemic came with many notable negative effects on healthcare and one of them is that nearly all resources of an already struggling sector were dedicated to tackling it. This unfortunately left little to nothing in areas like maternal and child health. The freedom with which expectant women would go for their antenatal clinics and immunization for their babies was severely diminished.
Community health workers and volunteers were also not able to visit homesteads freely due to transport issues, and issues to do with social distancing. And yet these are people who play a crucial role in health management especially in marginalized areas.
I also read in the papers that due to the strain on the healthcare system, some health workers were required to go to work even while pregnant. Nobody deserves the danger of contracting the disease but ideally, pregnant women should not have been anywhere near the heart of the pandemic.
Corona virus also came with a high level of stigma and this bred fear. As much as a healthy dose of fear of a novel virus is natural and expected, stigma was never the way to go because to some extent it made mothers so paranoid of hospitals. Some whose delivery time came in the thick of things gave birth in unsanitary conditions even when there was a small window for them to go to health centers. This put the health of the mother and baby at risk of complications.
Teenage pregnancy and HIV
Schools closed and all over sudden all these adolescents were home and idle. As much as some were engaging in sexual activities among themselves, sexual predators in the form of relatives and neighbors took full advantage of the situation. Soon enough there were worrying statistics from different counties about the high number of girls of school going age who were falling pregnant. Of course, with pregnancy also come the risk of contracting HIV and other STIs.
There has always been the risk of these and other unfortunate things like FGM and early marriage, but the situation was made worse by the pandemic. Maybe because the girls were seen to be just home and even they themselves started feeling hopeless about life?
As mentioned earlier, there has been too many varied effects of the pandemic that it is impossible to discuss them in one article. In the next one, we shall have a look at more of these and also the role of women leaders in all this. Have they gotten too consumed by politics to a point where they have forgotten the plight of their fellow women? Where are their voices? And what policies need to be formulated to ensure that women have enough say in planning for post COVID economic recovery?