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Integrate gender issues into existing COVID-19 responses

COVID-19

Madam Bashiratu Kamal, Gender and Labour Specialist with the General Agriculture Workers Union, says the government must integrate gender issues into existing COVID-19 responses.

She said the government must also be deliberate and committed to ensuring that future interventions were responsive to the needs of vulnerable groups.

Madam Kamal, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said it was important to make the difficult bureaucratic processes flexible for vulnerable groups to enable them to apply for the stimulus package.

Cases of COVID-19 were recorded in 2019, spreading rapidly to all parts of the world. Ghana recorded its first cases in March 2020.

The pandemic adversely impacted the economic, social and political lives of people while the numbers increased to 88,228 with 698 deaths and 83,829 recoveries as of March 16, 2021.

To contain the spread of the pandemic, the government instituted several responsive measures, including the closure of schools, a ban on social gathering and partial lockdowns.

She said the measures and interventions were not gender-responsive as they failed to extend adequate protection for women most of whom lost their jobs and had to choose between unpaid care works or building a career.

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According to a World Bank report, about 25 per cent of the total workforce lost their jobs with several others being laid off.

The Gender and Labour Expert said the effect of these was more telling for women, who were the most affected.

Similarly, the cuts in foreign aid by governments like the UK resulted in the halt of several support services that were provided by some Civil Society Organizations.

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

She said, 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 marginalized groups.

Madam Kamal said the Commonwealth Foundations, through the on-going #criticalconversations, also noted how the pandemic “has exposed weaknesses in governance” and called for the incorporation of “gendered analysis” in interventions.

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She said in the face of the pandemic, Ghana had recorded an upsurge in domestic violence cases failing to honour its commitments towards ensuring non-violence and discrimination in 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.”

She said Article 12 clause 2 of the 1992 Constitution also enjoined the guaranteeing of the “…fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individuals…” devoid of gender and race.

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

The Gender and Labour Specialist said 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 complimented with the provision of shelters like in South Africa and activation of the Domestic Violence Fund,” she said.

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She said meanwhile, Ghana passed the Domestic Violence Act 2007 (Act 732) and the 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, Madam Kamal said.

She, therefore, called on government to activate the DV Fund established by the LI as a responsive mechanism.

She urged government to prioritize the needs of marginalized groups and help in shaping future responses to the pandemic in promoting and protecting the rights of vulnerable groups while ensuring the impact of poverty was mitigated to guarantee “equality and justice”.

Subsequently, “we need to bring women on board in developing policies around COVID-19 to make it gender responsive,” She said.

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