Status and Dynamics of Gender Mainstreaming in East Africa Community COVID-19 Social and Economic Response Policies, Strategies and Interventions

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Maloiy, Lanoi
Wawire, Violet
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African Economic Research Consortium
COVID-19 has had serious implications globally for social, economic areas and public health. Equally, the pandemic has proved quite challenging to many countries in East Africa. Recognizing that swift and decisive responses to the pandemic are needed across East Africa, the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) through a grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and in collaboration with East African private sector apex organizations and the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat launched this project to assist East African governments coordinate their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and formulate appropriate economic recovery strategies and plans. To do this, there is need to generate knowledge devoted to advising policy makers to create awareness and sensitize governments on the need to mainstream gender at all levels of policy formulation and action across EAC member countries during the COVID-19 crisis. AERC seeks to generate rigorous and robust analytical policy research papers assessing the impact of COVID-19 crisis on gender mainstreaming across countries in East Africa. It is against this background that this study is set. The study aims to examine the status of women in the East African Community with a view to comprehending how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected women, and further investigate what policies and interventions have been instituted to address gender issues emerging from the pandemic, identifying gender gaps in policies, and proposing new perspectives for reviewing existing gender policies and interventions to address these gaps. A desk review and gender analysis was undertaken of the six (6) EAC countries, with particular focus on the status of women. Stakeholder mapping was also undertaken. Those mapped were Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) involved in gender issues in the EAC, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key informant interviews were undertaken from the selected stakeholders and policy analysis on gender issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the EAC done. Five stakeholder/policy analysts were interviewed on policy gaps and possible interventions for women around COVID-19 generated. The key findings from the gender analysis and key informant interviews are discussed in terms of the areas of education, health, land ownership, career and labour market followed by representation and public decision-making. Overall, in all five thematic areas, there is no gender responsiveness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Education: Prior to COVID-19, access to education and retention of girls in school was problematic across the EAC countries. This poor retention and access to education has been exacerbated by school closures due to COVID-19. Additionally, girls are likely to engage in transactional sex due to financial constraints, thus exposing themselves to HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies that will negatively impact on educational completion rates. Health: Women in all the EAC countries have low decision-making power in sexual relationships. The results indicate that there is low uptake of contraceptives particularly in rural areas. Because women have little negotiation ability in their relationships, they may not be able to use contraceptives and condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. Due to women’s low status in relationships, they may also be unable to refuse sexual contact with male partners even if the man has not been taking measures against COVID-19, therefore exposing themselves to coronavirus. Women’s health can be exacerbated by most EAC governments placing resources into COVID-19 initiatives in lieu of women’s health. If unchecked, such prioritization may reverse any gains made on women’s health. Quarantine centres are also not set up in a gender sensitive way, and there is lack of sanitary items for women confined in these centres. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Land ownership: Across the six EAC countries, it was found that most women do not own and control land. This is the case even in Rwanda where women are the majority in Parliament. This lack of ownership also leaves women vulnerable to evictions or land grabbing in case of death of a spouse or male relative. Career and labour market: Men still dominate formal employment even in Rwanda where women have significant representation in Parliament. Women were largely found working at home or in the informal sector. These women in the informal sector are likely to suffer significant financial losses. Women cross border traders suffer the risk of assault, theft and rape from the use of illegal routes during the pandemic. Representation and public decision-making: Apart from Rwanda, women in all the other five EAC countries are under-represented in public decision-making. This lack of representation has an implication in COVID-19 responses. Policies and decisions made around funding, relief measures and other core legislative acts are done without a gender lens.