Annually 8 March is set aside to commemorate International Women’s Day globally. The UN in The Gambia joins hands with all people in The Gambia to celebrate and applaud progress made to remove discrimination and inequalities faced by women, while enhancing their protection and empowerment in line with Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In The Gambia, women and girls play a pivotal role in the development of the country as the bedrocks and backbones of many homes and communities; women continue to contribute to the sustenance of families and upkeep of homes.
However, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are also concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of women and girls, in particular those living with disabilities and its effect on our collective work to empower them.
According to the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, “As the world marks International Women’s Day in the midst of a global pandemic, one stark fact is clear: the COVID-19 crisis has a woman’s face. The pandemic is worsening already deep inequalities facing women and girls, erasing years of progress towards gender equality”.
The pandemic has created a new reality that is significantly reversing decades of progress made towards realizing gender equality as envisioned by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Paradoxically, measures instituted to curb the spread of COVID-19, such as stay-at-home orders, and closure or scaling down of some public facilities at the height of the pandemic, may have led, in many situations, to increased women and girls’ vulnerability to violence and abuse particularly in homes.
We also reflect on the plight of women-owned businesses and women-headed households that have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic and the families who risk losing access to adequate nutritious meals, quality healthcare, safe and comfortable housing and a source of livelihood as a result. Most of these women are generally in the informal sector, which is an area where legislation needs to be strengthened.
A parallel pandemic of rumours and misinformation, is also impacting negatively on women’s access to essential sexual and reproductive health services for themselves and their newborns such as antenatal and postnatal care, vaccination, family planning services and health facility deliveries. For girls, the pandemic has also led to a decline in access to menstrual health and hygiene products, propelling period shaming and period poverty, especially for those in underserved communities. School closures has seen girls taking on greater house chores preventing many from continuing with their studies at home, while others are at increased risk of being married off or subjected to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
For many women and girls living with disabilities, COVID-19 has compounded discrimination they are facing – they have struggled to access relevant information on how to protect themselves from the virus, where they can access services and contribute towards curbing its spread in their homes and communities.
Despite the numerous challenges women and girls face, they continue to blaze a trail in many spheres of development. For example, they constitute a formidable force in the COVID-19 frontline response as doctors, nurses, innovators, community organizers, as well as providers of unpaid care work in homes, taking on the greater burden of household chores and caring for family members infected by the virus. One year into the pandemic, the indispensable roles women play in the daily sustenance of families and the safeguarding of communities during challenging times of great upheaval.
As the country moves forward into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN System in The Gambia calls on all stakeholders to ensure:
o Continued delivery of essential sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning services, vaccines and lifesaving medicines, adequate personnel and equipment at health facilities and supplies that meet the demands of pregnant women, mothers and their newborns,
o Continued delivery of essential services in the law enforcement and medical sector for GBV survivors;
o Ensure COVID-19 responses are inclusive to address the needs of women with disability.
o Position women and girls at the forefront of efforts to address harmful traditional practices, gender-based violence and advocate for an FGM policy and enforcement of the law,
o Advocate for a specific and comprehensive law on FGM and child marriage, removing social and gender norms that negatively affect women and girls for a better future of all women in The Gambia.
o Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making especially at the economic and political level,
o Advocate for increased economic, legal and social resources for women and girls.
o Operationalisation of the National Referral Mechanism on the protection of vulnerable migrants to protect the most vulnerable – particularly female migrants in domestic work and lower-skilled occupations – and prevent, report and address all forms of exploitation and abuse heightened during COVID-19, including sexual and gender-based violence, as well as human trafficking and smuggling, based on national frameworks and strategies under development, including the recently validated Labour Migration Strategy.
Women are leaders. They should be heard. Their views must be considered in all decisions. Girls are the leaders of tomorrow. They need to be supported and provided with role models to fulfill their dreams.