COVID-19 impact worries SADC first ladies

Monica Chakwera

First Ladies of Southern African Development Community (SADC) region have expressed concern over the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls in the region.

Malawi’s first lady, Monica Chakwera corroborated the sentiments with the first ladies  at Kamuzu Palace in Lilongwe where she chaired the SADC First Ladies virtual meeting on the impact of COVID-19 in the region.  

She said the pandemic has threatened the fundamental ways of life through preventative national responses including lockdowns, curfews and working in shifts.

Chakwera noted that the region continues to have limited number of vaccines that have been administered and this has exposed many communities to the crisis.

“That means our women and girls continue to be extremely vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 on various spheres of life including on other dimensions like key health services and access to social amenities,” she said. 

The First Lady added that disasters and emergencies affect women and men in different ways and are exposed to increased risks as the obstacles they face in their everyday life.

“This pandemic is having a devastating impact on all of us, but more so for our women and girls. We are in real danger of seeing a reversal of the progress made in challenging and breaking down these barriers.” she noted.

The first lady said the pandemic affected the education sector more when schools were forced to close due to increased number of COVID-19 cases.

“As women, we need to ensure that our needs are reflected on, valued and regarded central to our recoveries as we move forward. We need increased resilience in our communities to face crises such as this pandemic, and our starting point should be women and girls,” she added.

Chakwera observed that the pandemic has seen increased domestic pressures, violence and a rise in harmful practices to women and girls.

“We have witnessed an increase in harmful practices including gender-based violence (GBV) and underage pregnancies. For instance, 53 percent of women surveyed in United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women 2020 survey reported that there was a negative change in GBV since the onset of the pandemic, and the situation had deteriorated,” she explained.

The first lady pointed out that due to the pandemic the pressure on health services has led to sexual and reproductive health and rights not receiving the attention that it needs.

First Lady of Botswana, Neo Jane Masisi said the pandemic has made more women and girls suffer through GVB.

She disclosed that Botswana has made an effort to amend laws to ensure that perpetrators of GVB should be given stiffer punishments.

First Ladies of Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) expressed similar sentiments saying women have been left vulnerable as a result of the pandemic which calls for restrictions in movements of people.