Most of the world’s nations are not doing enough to protect women and girls from the economic and social pitfalls of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data released in September by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in their COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker.

Projections show that while the pandemic will impact global poverty, women (especially those of reproductive age) will be disproportionately affected. By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (1.90 USD a day or less), there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030.

Acknowledging the adverse effects of the pandemic on women and girls, the recent third AFRI CONVERSE series, titled Build Back Better: Harnessing the Power of Women and Girls, brought together speakers from public and private sectors and close to 200 participants across multiple sectors from Africa and Japan to discuss gender issues and possible solutions.

Referring to the Africa Development Report of 2016 in her opening statement, Alka Bhatia, Resident Representative for UNDP Namibia, said inequality continued to threaten human development progress. However, highlighting one of the many recommendations of the report, Bhatia said that expanding the capabilities and opportunities for women is central to sustainable human development.

“I mean we cannot hope to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals unless we have freedom of access to opportunities for both women and men and, likewise, we invest in enhancing the capabilities of women the world over. This is especially true for Africa where women face certain historical structural inequalities.”

Bhatia reminded participants that the gender gap in Africa alone contributes to a 6 percent loss in GDP. She cautioned that, if not taken seriously, the Covid-19 pandemic had the potential to worsen the gender-poverty gap. She said opportunities to build back better in Africa should include strengthening social protection, enhancing training and education, and creating jobs. 

Aya Yamaguchi, JICA Advisor on Gender and Development, said some of the hindering factors to women’s economic empowerment include: limited access to/control over/ownership of resources; heavy responsibility for unpaid care work; prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence: poor infrastructure; lack of gender-responsive policies and mechanisms.

For the way forward, Yamaguchi noted that JICA will promote social business to remove barriers faced by African women and girls. “We will also provide continued support to female entrepreneurs and female farmers as a driver of economic development in Africa and as a social transformation leader.

Additionally, she said JICA’s Covid-19 response and recovery strategy included taking the necessary measures needed to promote women’s economic empowerment.

Anderson Chikomola, Deputy Director for the Department of Agriculture Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, highlighted the gender issues in the agricultural sector of Malawi. These, he said, included limited access to and control over assets and benefits within farming communities. He said there was also limited access to information and technology for women to produce and market their goods and services, as well as minimal participation of women in decision-making which disadvantages them in terms of productivity at household, community, institutional and national levels.

“As a result of these issues, in the final analysis, you find that women are not able to thrive as well as their male counterparts.” Chikomola said the Ministry continues to mainstream gender in agricultural projects to reduce existing disparities at household and community levels and in the workplace. As an agricultural project with gender perspective, he briefly introduced the Market-oriented Smallholder Horticultural Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) Project jointly implemented by his ministry and JICA.

He did, however, express concern that the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down implementation efforts. In some instances, capacity to deliver agricultural extension services had been reduced by up to 50 percent and even lower depending on country guidelines.

Touching on the roles of women in the textiles and clothing industry, Jennet Lemma, Managing Director for Gaber Wear in Ethiopia, said social and economic constraints continue to prevent women from realizing their full entrepreneurial potential.

She highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic and traditional roles of women in the household have also placed a greater burden on the career goals of women. Challenges still faced by women entrepreneurs in Africa include among others, social constraints, limited access to capital, traditionally set female sectors and household gender roles.

Lemma says the Covid-19 pandemic has hit African women entrepreneurs particularly hard and forced them to change how they conduct their business – some more successfully than others due to the challenges they still face.

AFRI CONVERSE will continue to be held bi-monthly to build momentum for TICAD 8 by mobilizing a wide range of stakeholders from Africa and Japan to engage on the most pressing development issues.

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