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COVID Pandemic Worsening Gender Divide in Africa, WHO Says

FILE - A woman checks her phone in Yaounde, Cameroon, April 23, 2020.
FILE - A woman checks her phone in Yaounde, Cameroon, April 23, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening gender inequality in Africa and causing millions of women great physical, mental and economic distress, the World Health Organization says.

Although fewer women in Africa are contracting COVID-19, the pandemic is exacerbating the gender divide.

The latest figures show more than 3.9 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in Africa, and 104,000 have died. A WHO analysis of 28 countries finds on average 41% of COVID-19 cases are among women.

Health officials say a major reason why fewer women than men are becoming infected and dying from the coronavirus is that they are more likely than men to adhere to prevention measures.

That, though, is where the good news ends. WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti says COVID-19 is worsening the gender divide in several key areas.

“Unpaid care and domestic work, almost always done by women, has increased with school closures and stay-at-home orders, as have several risks …The work that many African women rely on for their livelihoods, for example, in areas such as personal care and in the informal sector, came to a standstill for several months in many countries due to the lockdowns,” Moeti said.

Oulimata Sarr, the regional director for U.N. Women in West and Central Africa, an organization that works for gender equality and women’s empowerment, says her organization did a study in 30 countries of how 1,300 female-owned businesses in the formal and informal sectors have been affected by COVID-19.

“And the message is the same. We have lost the vast majority of our revenue. In those 30 countries, the women have said that the lockdowns, the restrictions of movements have affected their business greatly,” she said.

Sarr said countries responded by giving the women food and some cash transfers instead of providing them with capital to keep their businesses afloat. On the other hand, she notes several countries in her region have given stimulus checks and packages to a number of well-organized business associations, most run by men.

She said governments must address this gender financing gap by ensuring women, as well as men, are supported in their business ventures, or women will continue to fall behind.