Africa: Government responses to COVID-19 should guarantee the protection of women and girls’ rights

It is vital that the responses of governments in Africa to the COVID-19 pandemic take into consideration the specific risks that women and girls in the region face in the current crisis and include differentiated measures

  • Date: 07/05/2020
Africa: Government responses to COVID-19 should guarantee the protection of women and girls’ rights

Authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa must ensure their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic include specific protections for the rights of women and girls, Women's Link Worldwide, Amnesty International, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region (IPPFAR) said in a report published today.

The document provides a roadmap for governments and regional organisations for taking the necessary measures to protect the rights of women and girls, who are often disproportionately affected in crisis situations. It highlights states’ obligations to guarantee the right to live free from discrimination and violence and calls on governments to ensure access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, commodities and information during the pandemic.  

“During times of crisis and turmoil such as the one we are living in, women and girls face an increased risk of suffering violations of their rights. This is especially true for women already living in marginalized situations. For this reason, it is urgent that we work to ensure that their rights are respected and guaranteed,” said Viviana Waisman, President & CEO of Women’s Link Worldwide. 

“These guidelines are a roadmap to allow us to carry out this monitoring and advocacy work and demand that governments comply with their obligations and maintain their commitment to the rights and lives of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The organisations are calling for governments to take urgent action to protect the rights of women and girls, highlighting the specific gender risks which the COVID-19 pandemic poses. 

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and girls. Their health and wellbeing is not only negatively impacted by the disruption of essential sexual and reproductive health services such as contraceptives counselling, maternal and newborn health, gender-based violence (GBV), and testing and treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections; but also their livelihoods and even their lives are threatened when sexually based crimes go invisible and stay unpunished,” says Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry, the IPPF Africa Regional Director.  

“This is why the African Union, regional economic commissions, governments and women rights defenders must redouble their efforts in ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls are protected and upheld and violations of these rights are documented and dealt with by justice systems.”

According to the report, the implementation of measures such as curfews, lockdowns or travel restrictions may lead to police brutality and violence which ultimately poses a risk for women and girls to being subjected to sexual violence. There are also concerns of an increase in teenage pregnancies, as previously observed in Sierra Leone following the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of the Ebola epidemic. Governments should put safeguards in place to ensure women and girls are protected from sexual violence and have access to sexual and reproductive health services and commodities. The organisations also call for better protections for refugee and migrant women.

“As COVID-19 spreads across the region women and girls have reportedly already faced an increase in domestic violence. Restrictions on movement, social isolation and lockdowns can make it even harder for women to access essential services like sexual and reproductive healthcare and protection from domestic violence,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa regional director. 

“We call on governments in the region to act urgently to prevent gender gaps increasing. Any measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic must respect and protect women’s rights, including the right to live free of violence and torture and other ill-treatment, and the right to access justice.”

Download the guidelines:

Guidelines for African States to protect the rights of women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic: click here.

Contact for media:

Cristina Sánchez Velázquez

c.sanchez@womenslinkworldwide.org

Tel. +34 669 464 490

About Women's Link Worldwide

Women’s Link Worldwide is an international organization which uses the power of the law to promote a social change which promotes the rights of women and girls, especially those facing multiple forms of discrimination.

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