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Coronavirus - Africa: Demonstrate commitment to Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment with actions; meeting with Civil Society Organisations emphasises

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The speedy implementation of commitments to Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) has yet again been emphasized in a Declaration and Call for Action between the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The Declaration and call for action is an outcome statement of the AUC, Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD) meeting with CSOs, to deliberate on scaling up actions to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender-specific concerns. The latest round of engagement with the CSOs was virtual convened on 14th July 2020 with the support of the Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) Network, gathering rich perspectives and contributions from the academia, the media, youth, traditional leaders, faith-based organizations, persons living with disabilities and Africans in the diaspora, in a productive review and consolidation of a common position on the gender responsiveness of the African Union (AU) and Member States in the COVID-19 response strategies.

The AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira El-Fadil, lauded the visionary leadership of the African Union in swiftly mobilizing a collective African response backed by a comprehensive continental strategy to COVID-19. She noted the realization of the impactful implementation of the continental strategy called for enhanced collaboration between the AU, its Member States, development partners and CSOs to create and strengthen social protection systems that aim at reducing social and economic risk and vulnerabilities. The department of Social Affairs is currently finalizing the development of the AU Socio-economic Strategy to COVID-19, which would strengthen the gender responses to the pandemic and also complement the continental AU Strategy to ensure that women are not left behind.

AU Commission WGDD Acting Director, Victoria Maloka, underlined the need to find collaborative and cooperative ways to push forward the gender equality agenda adding that a multisectoral engagement was important in iidentifying gaps that persist in adopting a gender-responsive approach to COVID-19 at the national, regional, continental and global levels. She emphasized the role of the civil societies in ensuring policies, programs and investments at all levels respond to the specific risks, vulnerabilities and challenges faced by women, girls and those living in the rural areas including those living with disabilities.

The Chairperson of GIMAC and Executive Director, Forum for African Women Educationalist (FAWE) Martha Muhwezi, acknowledged the social, cultural and economic injustices that have resulted from the pandemic, highlighting the several challenges emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, including the surging cases of gender-based violence (GBV) and the increase number of teenage pregnancies, with a reported 4000 teenage pregnancies recorded between March and June in Kenya. Similar sentiments were echoed by Julie Kone, Chairperson of the Gender Cluster Committee of AU Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). The pandemic has resulted to grave consequences not only to economic infrastructure but cultural and social injustices as well particularly for women and girls.

African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop, and Youth Envoy, Aya Chebbi, reiterated the commitment of the AUC Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat for protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls and mitigating the negative impact of the pandemic through various means, including sharing information, experiences, best practices, and reinforcing collaboration and partnerships that scale up actions on GEWE.

The meeting observed that COVID-19 pandemic continues to accentuate the inequalities between men and women and has eroded gains made in the GEWE agenda. From the economy to livelihoods, social protection to peace and security, participants noted that the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply because of their gender. The pandemic has had far-reaching socio-economic, political, security and humanitarian impacts on women, including posing extraordinary risks for women in conflict settings, refugee settlements, Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, business, the informal sector, agriculture, health sector and women living with disabilities.

The meeting underlined that a key distressing challenge facing women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic was the increased exposure to sexual and gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and abuse. These are exacerbated under lockdowns, which have resulted in limited mobility for women and girls. Participants also highlighted that the impact of border closures and lockdowns on industries along the supply chain are further exposing women to income losses. Furthermore, the increased burden of unpaid care work was also observed, in addition to the mental health, physical health impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers and frontline female staff.

Effective coordination between the AU, Members States, and CSOs to ensure institutions and government implement their commitments to GEWE is key.

Read the full Declaration and call for action here https://bit.ly/3gnGfyA

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Union (AU).