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COVID-19 interventions not gender responsive

BY: Nuong Faalong
Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Health minister
Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Health minister

Cases of COVID-19 were first recorded in 2019 and it spread rapidly to all parts of the world, with Ghana recording its first cases in March 2020.

The Government of Ghana put in several responsive measures to contain the pandemic, including closure of schools, a ban on social gatherings, partial lockdowns and passage of the Imposition of Restriction Act 2020, etc.

For all intents and purposes, those interventions are not gender responsive, failing to extend adequate protection to women as most of them have lost their jobs, having to choose between unpaid care work or building a career.

According to a World Bank report, about 25 per cent of the total workforce lost their jobs, with several others being laid off. The effect of this was more telling for women who are the most affected.

Similarly, the cuts in foreign aid by governments such as the UK government resulted in the halting of several support services provided by some civil society organisations.

Intimate partner violence

Meanwhile, UN Women has warned that women and girls may be at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence due to heightened tensions in the households.

For this reason, one would have expected the government to be more inclusive in responding to the pandemic to avert the several discriminatory practices and breaching of the rights of marginalised groups.

The commonwealth foundations, through the on-going #criticalconversations, also noted how the pandemic “has exposed weaknesses in governance” calling for incorporation of “gendered analysis” in interventions.

Ghana has failed to honour its commitments towards ensuring non-violence and discrimination after accepting the United Nations Periodic Review recommendations for the “promotion and protection of Human Rights”.

These include a pledge in recommendation 146.62 to "continue promoting gender equality through specific laws, plans and programmes". Article 12 clause 2 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana also enjoins the guaranteeing of the “…fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individuals…” devoid of gender, race, etc.

Partial lockdowns

According to available data on the UNDP Gender Tracker, several African countries were proactive in integrating gender into their work while others such as Ghana failed woefully in putting creative measures that bridge the inequality gap.

As part of responsive mechanisms, government through Parliament passed the Imposition of Restriction Act, 2020 (Act 1012). According to Section 3(2) of the Act, the imposition of restriction shall be reasonably justifiable and may not exceed three months.

Act 1012 gives the President power to grant exemptions in restriction at any point in time. Nevertheless, as countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa granted exemptions and the free movements of certain CSOs & NGOs to provide support services for victims of domestic violence, Ghana was flooded with the news of harassment of market women by some security personnel.

Similarly, providers of critical sexual and reproductive health services were closed to the disadvantage of beneficiaries, according to Marie Stopes which charged government to improve access to contraception.

Hotline

The UNFPA in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection provided toll-free hotlines for victims of abuse to reach out during the lockdown and beyond. Sadly, this was not complemented with the provision of shelters as it is done in South Africa and activation of the DV fund.

Meanwhile, Ghana passed the Domestic Violence Act 2007 (Act 732) and its associated Domestic Violence LI, 2016 (LI 2237). According to the DV coalition, these two legal frameworks have been ineffective due to the lack of commitment and resources on the part of government.

Way forward

The government must integrate gender into existing responses and be deliberate and committed to ensuring that future interventions are responsive to the needs of vulnerable groups. It is important to make the cumbersome bureaucratic processes flexible for vulnerable groups in applying for the stimulus package.

The government must activate the DV Fund established by the LI as a responsive mechanism.

As issues of “differentiated needs arise,” according to the Commonwealth Foundation in responding to the pandemic, we must prioritise the needs of marginalised groups.

As the #Critical Conversations continue, it will help in shaping future responses to pandemics in promoting and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups while ensuring the impact of poverty is mitigated to guarantee “equality and justice”.