COVID-19 undoing gains in women’s movement: RWPC

Whereas the year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and is thus cause for all women to celebrate progress towards gender equality, COVID-19 has become a fly in the ointment.

This is the view expressed by the Chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Honourable Anne-Marie Bilambangu. She said this in her maiden speech at the start of the 47th Plenary Assembly Session which took place virtually.

According to UN Women, the Beijing Platform for Action imagines a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices, and realize all her rights, such as to live free from violence, to go to school, to participate in decisions, and to earn equal pay for equal work.

Honourable Bilambangu said: “The COVID-19 Pandemic has spoiled the party by causing destruction and even reversing the hard-fought gains we had made toward women’s rights over the past two decades and a half.”

She said the global pandemic has not only exposed how society is reliant on women “both on the frontline and at home”, but had also exposed “the structural inequalities across all spheres from health, economy, politics, sexuality to social protection”.

Noting that women make up most of those in the informal sector, earn and sell less, hold jobs that are less secure, she said they are more likely to lose income, they were especially vulnerable to the negative effects of COVID-19 which “has only served to aggravate their situation”.

Turning to the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector she cited UNESCO estimates that out of a total population of students enrolled in education globally, over 89% were out of school because of COVID-19 closures.

She said: “This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in schools or universities, including nearly 743 million girls. Over 111 million of these girls are living in the world’s least developed countries, where getting an education is already a struggle.” Honourable Bilambangu said COVID-19 related social distancing and restriction of movements had led to an increased dependency on digital technologies but her lobby body was “dismayed”

that most women and girls in SADC had limited access to these technologies due to insufficient ICT infrastructure, especially in the rural areas.

She expressed concern, also, over a spike of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases against women and girls under COVID-19.

“Factors now perpetuating GBV include movement restrictions which result in reduced access to health and other services; diminishing living conditions; economic stress and disempowerment; unequal access to assets; goods and services for livelihood and security; unequal education and skills and lack of decent work and in fact democratic dividends and of course, the risks caused by internet and cyber-space,” she said.

She commended the SADC Parliamentary Forum(PF) for working towards the development of the SADC Model Law on GBV which, she hoped, “would go a long way in addressing the legislative and policy gaps that exist within our Member States”.

She enjoined the Plenary Assembly Session to support efforts to correct long-standing inequalities that women face and build resilient communities that are sensitive to the difficulties women and girls face.

With schools gradually being opened, she called on parliaments to build governments’ capacity to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19.

“We should also prioritise gender and age sensitive interventions that are responsive and reflective of the unique realities of girls, children with disabilities and other marginalised children in our schools.” She stressed the need to make sure that responses to the public health crisis due to COVID-19 ensure that everyone enjoy Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and have access to services, education and information guaranteeing equal rights or are in line with the various regional and international instruments.

“In this regard, I wish to commend the SADC PF and National Parliaments for the sterling work they are doing to advocate for comprehensive SRHR services for all without discrimination and in prioritising the health and rights of women, girls and other vulnerable groups through the SRHR Programme.”

She expressed optimism that MPs would ensure that the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development suffers no setbacks, particularly in the Member States holding general elections this year that include the United Republic of Tanzania. “We need to continue lobbying for gender equality in Parliaments and other decision-making institutions.”

Honourable Bilambangu emphasised the need to ensure that responses to COVID-19 are gender-sensitive. “We need to be sensitive to the challenges that women and girls are facing daily due to COVID-19, and work toward mitigating these problems. We should then make sure that women have equal representation in all COVID-19 response planning and decision-making.”

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Le Forum parlementaire de la Communauté de développement de l'Afrique australe (SADC PF) a été créé en 1997 conformément à l'article 9 (2) du Traité de la SADC en tant qu'institution autonome de la SADC. Il s'agit d'un organe interparlementaire régional composé de treize (14) parlements représentant plus de 3500 parlementaires dans la région de la SADC.

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