Throughout history, women and girls have been affected negatively and at a disproportionately higher rate by the outbreaks of epidemics and pandemics, and COVID-19 hasn’t been an exception. Existing social and cultural norms and practices that underlie structures of systemic gender discrimination and marginalisation glaringly manifest themselves.
Otherwise hidden and suppressed attitudes and practices are laid bare as communities and institutions resort to instincts to control and survive within emergency situations.
In Africa, an intersection of factors leaves girls and adolescents at greater risk of marginalisation, discrimination and neglect. Gender and social norms have traditionally placed girls at a greater disadvantage than other segments of the population.
Pandemics, like other crises, often result in the breakdown of social infrastructure and services, leading to health, transport, food, sanitation, legal, security and other governance structures being temporarily contracted or becoming dysfunctional.1 This may result in increased exposure of women and children to human rights abuses, including exposure to gender-based violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and added yet another layer of vulnerability to an already dire web of vulnerabilities of girls in the African continent, which constitute about 49% of the total child population. Critically, gender equality and girls’ multidimensional vulnerability have been accentuated to an unprecedented level. The pandemic has triggered major concerns about the potential reversal of the strides achieved over the years towards gender equality and human development in Africa.