Women ‘on the brink’ in developing countries amid COVID-19

Women 'on the brink' in developing countries amid COVID-19

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) – Rebecca Nakamanya rolls her eyes and ignores a question about school fees. What really worries her is how she can feed three children and an unemployed partner with a daily wage of less than $ 3, minus transportation to and from her job as a cook.

“We haven’t even started thinking about school fees yet,” she says. “If we don’t have something to eat? When the landlord also waits? ‘

In the usually busy labyrinth of shops around a bus station in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, she and other women sit idle in their open-air restaurant, waiting for customers to come rarely.

They are lucky to work at all. Business has been so bad due to coronavirus locking measures that their closest rivals have been shut down. Their restaurant remains open mainly because the landlord has delayed rent payments, a rare gesture of goodwill.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that millions of women in Africa and other developing regions can lose years of success by contributing to household income, affirming their independence and expanding financial inclusion.

Often they get paid at the end of each day, a hand-to-mouth existence that affects the whole family when things get bleak. Now many are under increasing pressure when they run out of savings and landlords threaten to evict.

The impact of COVID-19 “has the face of women,” especially in Africa, Bineta Diop, a special envoy from the African Union, told reporters this month.

While 81% of the global workforce has been affected by exclusionary measures, “women’s economic and productive lives will be disproportionately and differently affected than men,” the United Nations said in April.

All over the world, women earn less, save less, have less safe jobs and are more likely to work in the informal sector. They have less access to social protection and make up the majority of one-parent families. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men. ”

More than 70% of African women in non-agricultural jobs are employed in the informal sector, such as street and market sales, work that does not require diplomas, resumes or formal approval. They don’t pay taxes, but in difficult times they are unlikely to benefit from government support.

In Uganda, which had 848 confirmed cases of coronavirus since Sunday, authorities say restrictions on companies with close contacts, such as beauty salons, are necessary to prevent a sharp increase in infections. Many men also work in the informal sector, but auto mechanics, metal manufacturers, taxi companies and carpenters – often men – are now allowed to operate.

The sectors considered to be at high risk of job losses this year – housing and food supply; real estate, business and administrative services; manufacturing and wholesale / retail – employ 527 million women worldwide, accounting for 41% of total female employment, compared to 35% of total male employment, the International Labor Organization said last month.

The figures suggest that “the current crisis is likely to impact women’s employment more than men’s,” it added.

Many women are even more anxious because some local authorities in Africa claim to improve infrastructure and protect citizens, break down dilapidated markets and limit access to public spaces in which women are more likely to work. Such vandalism has been reported in Congo, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In a report this month, the CARE humanitarian group said the pandemic “has a disproportionate impact on the very female entrepreneurs who have worked so hard to lift themselves out of poverty.” It quoted Guatemala, where 96% of women entrepreneurs who benefit from the group’s programs are no longer able to afford basic food.

The international response to the pandemic “must focus strongly on women’s economic justice and rights” in order to preserve the progress made in gender equality for decades, said Reintje van Haeringen, a CARE official.

Grace Twisimire, 25, operates a once thriving shop in Kampala. She said she can now go for hours without even selling a few plastic clogs that cost less than $ 2. She gets up quickly when a potential customer comes by and slowly settles into her seat when they walk away. Dust has settled on the jeans hanging by the door.

“There is no money now,” she said. “There are no people. I don’t know, but if things don’t improve, I might go back to the village. ‘

In the streets of Kampala, women crouch on curbs and sell everything from passion fruit to undergarments. But they have to watch out for law enforcement officers who occasionally pop in to confiscate goods sold in non-designated markets. Recently, there was public anger after men in military uniform were seen beating women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads.

“We just run away. Otherwise they’ll take our things, ”said Gladys Afoyocan, a basket full of passion fruit on her lap. “I do this for my children. Our children must remain alive. ‘

The mom of five now needs a week or more to sell a single bag of fruit. Before the outbreak, two days were usually sufficient.

“What can I do now?” she said. “This is my company.”

Even relatively comfortable entrepreneurs like Marion Namutebi, which has a restaurant specializing in local delicacies, have discontinued operations and fired workers until further notice. This is the first time she has had to close since the restaurant opened in 2014.

“Things just didn’t get going,” she said. “Going to the restaurant is a luxury for many people.”

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