A SILENT PANDEMIC WITHIN THE PANDEMIC

It’s 2021 and schools have to re-open after a mandatory lockdown was imposed on all institutions across the country, which was meant to curb the spread of Covid-19. Uganda, like the rest of the world, experienced the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruptive effects on people’s lives. Women and men in formal and non-formal employment lost their sources of livelihoods; smallholder farmers made losses as their produce couldn’t find its way into the market; small and medium enterprises collapsed, significantly affecting revenue flows. Many lost their lives as the number of community infections grew.

A 2020 UNDP report on the effects of Covid-19 on the Ugandan economy indicated that while everyone is prone to the virus, marginalized populations such as young women, adolescents and youth are more likely to suffer from the negative social and economic impact of the pandemic.

All this stifled the sectors that employ and form the foundation of women empowerment. https://www.ug.undp.org/content/dam/uganda/docs/2020/UNCT%20Socioeconomic%20Report%20-A2020.pdf. The mandatory government-sanctioned lockdown led to a shutdown of schools and business enterprises, a slowdown in lending by financial institutions, a halt in local organizing and activities of village savings groups, and a breakdown in health-systems that support women.

Researches and studies conducted by different scholars and civil society organizations indicate that violence against women and girls tends to increase during times of epidemics and crises. A significant number of women have slipped back into poverty/dependence and are predisposed to exploitation and abuse. It has increased girls’ risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Within just 14 days into the lockdown, Uganda police registered 328 cases of violence against women/girls, according to media reports. The mid-year Uganda Police Crime Report (January – June, 2020) also shows an average monthly total of 2,707 [MOU1] [PC2] cases of sexual and gender-based violence as well as teenage pregnancies, ratios significantly higher than before. Covid-19 has also resulted in a secondary health crisis in Uganda. The number of teenage pregnancies has gone up as many learners between the ages of 14 and 15 got pregnant and are unlikely to continue with their studies even when schools re-open. Whereas the lockdown was meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, the virus that causes Covid-19, it also created anxiety, fear and uncertainty in the population thus disproportionately affecting women and girls.

Covid-19 presents an unprecedented global crisis with unique challenges for humanitarian and development actors, who have had to scale back essential services and activities at a time when they are most needed. This leaves a number of questions lingering as to whether the government has established some safety nets to ensure the most affected are supported to bounce back from the devastating effects of Covid-19. What lessons has the country learnt in dealing with pandemics and what does this mean to financing during times of pandemics?

Have the girls who became pregnant during the lockdown period been psychologically prepared enough to understand that they can go back to school after they have given birth and are schools ready to receive them? Are communities prepared enough to support these girls to go back to school? It is evident that in many Ugandan communities when a girl gets pregnant while still in school, she is handed over to the supposed husband and that marks the end of her academic career.

In 2013, all the countries that make up the African Union (AU) adopted Agenda 2063, a continent-wide economic and social development strategy. Under this strategy, African governments committed to build Africa’s “human capital,” which it terms the “most precious resource,” through sustained investments in education, including “elimination of gender disparities at all levels of education”. The international legal obligation of all governments to provide all children with an education without discrimination is clear. But Uganda does not have such a policy, which during such times of pandemics, would protect the rights of girls. The government needs to fast track enactment and implementation of this policy to protect the rights of the girl child as well as invest in economic-led interventions aimed at ensuring the most affected are able to bounce back.