During this COVID-19 period, violence against women is one of the major public health problems and a violation of women's human rights that needs to be addressed. This year’s theme highlights the fact that addressing human rights within the ‘stay-at-home’ public health response is also very important to the response of the pandemic, especially among Women. It has been generally noted that Women who are poor and marginalized face a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission, loss of livelihood, and increased violence. On the overall Women remain vulnerable in as they also account for almost 40% of COVID-19 cases in Africa.
The UN Women has reported that since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that there has been an increase of all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence. This has been indeed been a period that has mostly affected Women and girls as they have faced continuous job insecurity, reduced work hours, that has resulted into reduced income and hence increasing their vulnerability to various forms of abuse. For young girls lack of regular access to schools, and the burden of household chores that often fall on them has put them at greater risk of missing education, which in some cases has led to child marriages, survival sex, or sexual exploitation, abuse and human trafficking. Apart from violence against women during this period, in most parts of Africa the burden of caring for the sick is largely borne by women and a large number of health workers are women. It is therefore, important for policy makers in Africa to understand that women tend to have professions that are more impacted during outbreaks like COVID-19, which in most cases leads to the loss of financial independence, putting them further at a high risk of SGBV.
During the media briefing on 13th April this year, the General Director of World Health Organization (WHO) voiced out that ‘stay-at-home’ responses for slowing the pandemic must not be mandated at the expense of human rights and therefore each government must assess their situation, while protecting all their citizens, and especially the most vulnerable. Around the month of June this year, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa stated that, “We are already seeing that the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls is profound. Women are disproportionately affected by lockdowns and this is resulting in a reduced access to health services”. In the context addressing policy makers within governments, WHO generally further observes that there is a need to make sure that strategies are in place that address issues around quarantine and restrictive measures, shortages of supplies and equipment, mitigating stigma and discrimination, prevention of violence against women, and support for vulnerable populations. Policy makers need to actively identify effective interventions that improve women economic empowerment and access to routine essential health services. Within the ‘universal rights’ framework, governments should effectively use its security agencies and take steps to strengthen community systems that can protect women and their children from violence during COVID-19. As we recover better, everyone should be a ‘brother’s keeper’ and stand up for the rights of women.