11th March 2020 crowned the new strain of the corona virus, SARS-COV-2 a worldwide concern. I will most definitely relieve you from once again encountering the facts making the headlines- “covid this, covid that, wear a mask, wash our hands.” Presently, every functional Earthian must be cognizant of the overwhelmingly global character of this respiratory infection. Owing to my generous restraint therein, without intervention, let me draw your attention to a more subdued affair; More women and girls are likely to succumb to the secondary negative effects of the corona virus disease than to the virus itself.
Dr. Adhanom issued interim guidelines suggesting how governments can uphold sexual reproductive health and rights of women and girls while concurrently combating the severe ailment. However, individual policy makers have prioritized the latter through standard operating procedures such as restriction of public transport, temporary closure of learning institutions, quarantine, screening, et cetera.
Lockdown has infringed on the fundamental right to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Service providers have fled in fear of contracting the deadly disease, limiting access to maternal care, contraceptives and proficient counsel. Telehealth companies and applications have reinstated the need for women and girls to physically consult their doctors.
Adolescents aged 10 to 19 years constitute about 16% of the world’s total population and with limited or no access to sex education, the lockdown inclines these impulsive youth into regrettable decisions which are potentially catastrophic amounting to sexually transmitted diseases, forced marriage and abortion (an often politicized and illegitimized way to “clean the act “). Unsafe abortions amount to an average of 22,800 deaths annually and this figure, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, is bound to rise exponentially during this planetary crisis.
Decongestion of prisons and temporary closure of education institutes in a bid to restrain the circulation of the virus has heightened crime and societal idleness and inactivity especially among girls, many of whom have experienced physical sexual, verbal, psychological and emotional abuse. Consequently, apprehension and flight from retribution impedes victims from seeking help.” Which doctor would you like to see? What is the problem? Do you have flu-like symptoms?” are a fraction of the questions asked as protocol at the entrances at health centers during this corona virus season.
Imagine how difficult it is to respond, “I was raped, I think I’m pregnant, I need P.E.P” in such a setting. Misinformation resulting from rumour and public panic furthermore leaves the profane at a crossroad; a rather controversial struggle to decide whether to visit the health centre for assistance or “go there and contract covid 19” The opportunity cost is evidently obvious.
A paradoxical procedure, the termination of religious operations, occlusion of gatherings in churches and mosques (God heals the ailing. Doesn’t He?) has clouded the minds of the ‘faithful’ with thoughts of sin. With no constant reminder that the Omnipotent still exists, women and girls have increasingly been harassed in places of work and other spheres. As reported by the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women experience sexual abuse from an intimate partner. An intimate partner! What more is being done to women and children now that (almost) all potential abusers aren’t so occupied?
In a twisted turn of events, a spike in income inequality has been registered because non-essential workers are told to pack. Therefore, the increasing poverty rate leaves the scramble for bride price as a last resort. Girls who would under normal circumstances be locked away in school have been married off to affluent men (especially in villages) to emancipate themselves and their sinking families.
Unfortunately, the achievement attained in so doing is but a tiny shadow of empowerment. In some communities, female genital mutilation has risen as a formula to prepare adolescent girls for marriages which domestic violence and economic injustice are prevalent.
The unsustainable increase in cost of production due to restrictions at border points, limitation of importation, inflation and high living expenses has coerced employers to unfairly fire women. Such job insecurities arise from notions that women are incapacitated in terms of accomplishing tasks compared to men. Thus, gender stereotypes render women the major victims of poverty.
Well, since every cloud has a silver lining, I must say the far-reaching negative implications of covid-19 are also an eye opener. Unnecessary permissiveness, corruption and harmful cultural practices which violate the rights and dignities of people, especially women and girls must be ceaselessly fought through sensitization, esteem building and financial empowerment.
In summation, women are God’s greatest gift to man and we ought to protect and cherish them in the ugly face of this global crisis as well as during the calmness of normalcy.