COVID’s Aftershocks: Making gender equality central to the COVID-19 recovery

A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for the latest on this week’s Generation Equality Forum, and Africa’s third wave.

Top news

Governments, businesses and philanthropists commit $40 billion to fight for gender equality

Time for change: The Generation Equality Forum taking place in Paris this week is an opportunity to ensure that gender is at the heart of the post-COVID agenda. The event has already raised $40 billion in new financial commitments, including a pledge of $2.1 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. US Vice-President Kamala Harris announced that the US plans to double PEPFAR’s DREAMS partnership, which combats AIDS in 14 African countries. Kenya announced a plan to counter gender-based violence that includes new funding for survivor recovery centers, legal services, and psychological support systems, and other African countries have said they’ll follow Kenya’s lead. Watch this space!

About time: Last week’s ONE Aftershocks newsletter laid out the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and girls. Wherever we look, women and girls bear the heaviest burden of economic hardship, and that hurts all of us.

Frontline: Women have been on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 from the beginning, making up almost 70% of healthcare workers globally. And yet, up to half of the work they do is unpaid, meaning they subsidise the global economy by up to $1.5 trillion every year. This undermines primary healthcare services. In Malawi, eight women per day are dying of pregnancy complications, far higher than the death toll from COVID-19. Supporting women at the heart of our healthcare services by transforming the care economy will be vital to managing the next pandemic.

Equally horrific: Alongside COVID-19, women are facing an “equally horrific” pandemic of gender-based violence with 15 million additional cases of gender-based violence every three months. Sexual exploitation, trafficking, and female genital mutilation have increased 83% from 2019 to 2020. The GEF is calling for an additional $500 million for evidence-driven prevention strategies by 2026.

Economic (in)justice: Women are 24% more likely than men to lose their jobs during the pandemic, and can expect their income to fall by 50% more. An additional 47 million women and girls will be pushed into poverty because of the pandemic, as they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors. Women’s access to and control over productive resources must be expanded, and governments should protect the health, safety, and incomes of vulnerable female workers.

Disconnected: Only 27% of women in Africa have access to the internet, and only 15% can afford the costs of using it. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the widest gender gaps in the world in access to digital technologies at 37%. During the pandemic, digital technologies have become our lifeline, with many education, health, and financial services moving online. The Generation Equality Forum aims to reduce the gender gap in digital access and competencies by half by 2026.

Data gaps: There are huge gaps in the data required to monitor the gender-related Sustainable Development Goals; in 2019, we had only 31% of the necessary data on issues such as unpaid work and gender-based violence. These gaps make it harder to predict and manage the pandemic’s impact on women and girls. The UN’s Women Count initiative is working to change this by bringing about a radical shift in how gender statistics are used, created, and promoted.

More news from this week

Brutal: Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a third wave even more brutal than the two that came before. The IMF warned this week that case numbers are likely to surpass the previous peak in a matter of days, with infections in some countries already triple their January peaks. With the Delta variant surging across the continent, Zimbabwe has imposed a dusk-till-dawn curfew amid a five-fold increase in cases in just two weeks. South Africa has also imposed new restrictions, with hospitals in its most populous province, Gauteng, running out of ICU beds and oxygen supplies. While COVID-19 was previously considered by some to be a “city disease,” infections are now spreading rapidly in rural areas.

Dangerously exposed: Meanwhile, the lack of vaccines is leaving millions of Africans “dangerously exposed” to the virus. The WHO warned this week that the surging infections are outpacing efforts to vaccinate populations, with health systems in South Africa, Uganda, and the DRC among those close to being overwhelmed. Namibia, which has seen cases increase by 500% in the past month, has suspended its vaccination drive due to depleted stocks. Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “It does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from Covax or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”

 

Relief: Sudan is to begin receiving debt relief, potentially freeing up resources to tackle poverty and improve social conditions in the country. Sudan’s external debt will be “irrevocably reduced” by more than $50 billion under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdalla Hamdok, said, “This is a big day for Sudan and reaffirms that all the efforts and sacrifices of Sudanese people are recognized and rewarded.”

Shot in the arm: South Africa’s biggest pharmaceutical manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, is to receive a €600 million long-term debt financing package in a boost to African vaccine manufacturing capacity. A consortium of development financiers led by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation announced the move this week. The World Bank announced it would boost its vaccine financing package from $12 billion to $20 billion. This comes after the new WHO taskforce on vaccine access for developing countries met for the first time this week, issuing a joint statement saying that, “accelerating access to vaccines becomes even more critical to ending the pandemic everywhere.” Watch this space!

Catching up: Tanzania is to spend $470 million buying vaccines and supporting its COVID-ravaged economy. ONE’s Rasna Warah has the latest on this latest sign of Tanzania’s change of tack in dealing with the pandemic following the death of former President John Magufuli and under the leadership of new (female) President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

We don’t administer pledges: G20 foreign ministers have called for greater international cooperation on tackling the challenges of the day, including the COVID-19 pandemic and food security in Africa. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “we must get more vaccines to more places” and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed that, “each of us will only be safe when we are all safe.” They should have listened to AU vaccine envoy Strive Masiyiwa who said, “What we need is vaccines. We don’t administer pledges.”

Go it alone: The UK is alone among its peers in slashing aid spending by 31% in 2020. The US and EU increased spending by 6.1% and 16% respectively. But even the implementations of the cuts have been a shamble. The country’s International Development Committee slammed the government for refusing to publish a COVID-19 strategy and ignoring the pandemic’s effects on routine vaccination programmes and food shortages. So much for “Global Britain.”

Contempt: Former South African President Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison this week. The country’s highest court found Zuma guilty of contempt of court after he failed to show for an anti-corruption hearing. It’s a landmark ruling for South Africa in its long-running battle against corruption.

The numbers

Other reads

  • “Imagine Africans working so hard to contribute to a database that’s used to make or update vaccines, and then we don’t get access.” So said Christian Happi, one of a group of researchers from the global south opposing the sharing of coronavirus genome data, arguing they won’t benefit from it. Read more in Nature.
  • Africa’s dependence on imports of medicines leaves citizens vulnerable to shortages. The International Finance Corporation explores Africa’s push to make its own medicines.
  • Waiving intellectual property rights and donating vaccines is not enough to vaccinate the world quickly, and we need to scale up production by sharing production methods freely. So argue a group of scholars in a blog from the London School of Economics.
  • Ever wondered which issues leaders really prioritise when it comes to development? AidData conducted a fascinating survey of 7,000 leaders from government, civil society, and business in emerging markets.
  • COVID-19 has had a gendered impact in developing countries. A new study from Fraym, breaks down this impact and calls for a gender-transformative COVID-19 recovery plan.

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