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1,121 views Apr 26, 2020
COVID-19, Climate Change and the fight for Gender Equality

Why the fight for gender equality must be one and the same for COVID-19 and Climate Change.

Published on 26/04/2020 

By: Mark Akrofi and Rana Mamdouh

      The unprecedented impact of COVID-19 is being felt across the globe. Whiles many governments are mapping out strategies to get their economies back on track, care must be taken to ensure that the plight of vulnerable groups is not worsened by the pandemic. Just like climate change, COVID-19 is affecting everyone in society but it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, especially women and girls who will likely suffer the most from its socio-economic impacts [1]. In Africa and many developing parts of the world, women and girls are predominantly responsible for food production, household water and energy (mostly fuelwood) supply for cooking. The presence of climate change has already made these tasks difficult with women spending longer periods in search of water and fuelwood, especially in rural and peri-urban areas. Consequently, their productive hours are reduced and the extended periods spent on doing unpaid care work has further deepened inequalities between women and men.

 Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash 

      The outbreak of COVID-19 has made this situation even worse. In sub-Sarah Africa where 89% of women are employed in the informal sector [2], lockdown measures imposed across countries have resulted in the closure of markets thus, pushing many women out of employment. Confined to their homes and with the closure of schools, women’s unpaid care work, especially for children and the elderly, has increased. This confinement has also brought a spate of heightened domestic violence against women [3]. Stress and anxiety, coupled with restricted movements and isolation due to COVID-19 have already raised serious concerns about people’s mental health. Whiles both men and women are likely to suffer from mental health issues, women may be more susceptible due to the round the clock work that they do in their homes and their exposure to domestic violence.

      Today, as countries begin to ease lockdown restrictions with the reopening of some business and the return to normal life is in sight, hope is beginning to return to many who are itching to get back to work and start earning again. However, with schools still closed, this gradual easing of restrictions holds little prospects for reducing gender inequalities (perhaps in the short term) since many women have to stay at home to cater for their children or spend a considerable part of their productive time doing so before going to work. This situation is one that potentially deepens inequalities between women and men. Many government aid packages are targeting small business but what about the thousands of women engaged in informal activities that are not formally registered? COVID-19 may end soon but climate change is far from over. How can women safeguard their health and livelihoods in the face of COVID-19 and climate change? How can we avoid aggravated gender inequalities caused by COVID-19 and climate change?

 Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash

      Whiles governments are laying out strategies to get businesses back on track, investment in social safety nets is needed now more than ever to safeguard the livelihoods and well-being of women during and after the pandemic. Governments must recognize that the fight for gender equality is one and the same for both climate change and COVID19. Access to modern energy services during this lockdown period is very crucial whiles equal representation of women in the fight against climate change is as important as equal representation of women in the fight against the pandemic. The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) [4] warns that inadequate representation of women is already evident in some countries’ planning and response to the pandemic.

    Governments must also strengthen the activities of NGOs and CSOs who are empowering women, fighting gender-based violence and advocating for gender equality at the grassroots. Such groups need to be empowered to bolster their efforts in creating awareness, reporting incidences of domestic violence, advancing reproductive health rights, and creating supportive networks to help cope with stress during this challenging period. It is imperative that the fight against COVID-19 does not overshadow the fight against climate change. Gender is a cross-cutting issue and it needs to be mainstreamed in all COVID-19 and climate change response efforts in order to avoid a double tragedy of heightened gender inequalities in Africa.

 

Author Profiles

1. Mark is a MSc. Energy Policy graduate from PAUWES. He is co-founder and former vice president of the PAUWES Climate Change and Gender Club.  Contact Mark

2. Rana is a MSc. Energy Engineering graduate from PAUWES. She is a member of the PAUWES Climate Change and Gender Club. Contact Rana