African governments must build on covid-19 responses to advance gender equality

Authored by: Kéfilath Bello, Asha George, Michelle De Jong et al.

Categories: Global Public Health
Sub-Categories: COVID-19
Region: Sub-Saharan Africa
Year: 2023
Citation: Bello, Kéfilath, Asha George, Michelle De Jong, Oluwapelumi Adeyera, Cheikh Faye, Taiwo Oyelade, Kedest Mathews, and Agnes Binagwaho. "African governments must build on covid-19 responses to advance gender equality." The BMJ 381:e072239 (2023).

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Gender inequality remains a major threat to development in Africa, with millions of women in the continent not reaching their full potential.1 The covid-19 pandemic and related quarantine and lockdown measures exacerbated these gender inequalities. The effects included increased reports of gender based violence, the economic consequences of reduced income and unemployment for women and families, and disruptions to essential health services. In addition, school closures as a part of responding to the pandemic, further exposed girls and adolescents to violence, unintended pregnancies, and a risk of permanent dropout from schools across the region.

In response, African leaders and organisations pledged to tackle the multidimensional effects of the pandemic on women and girls. For example, the African Union issued policy guidance stressing the importance of integrating gender in all covid-19 interventions. In addition, multiple organisations working on health and socioeconomic development in the region, including civil society and UN agencies, contributed to mitigating the gendered effects of covid-19.

Three areas of intervention have been implemented widely to support women and girls during the pandemic: efforts to support female victims of gender based violence, social protection measures, and community and civil society led responses to the pandemic and associated lockdowns. Although we applaud these initial measures, they must be further strengthened to tackle the root causes of gender inequality, which are mainly structural. Structural causes are those that are beyond an individual’s direct control and refer more broadly to how economies are organised, social services are allocated, legislation made, and ideologies shaped. We highlight opportunities to further build and strengthen initial covid-19 responses, so that they are more effective in advancing gender equality in a sustained manner across the region.