The first case of COVID-19 in Africa was recorded in Egypt in February. The spread of the virus was slow at first, but the numbers soon grew exponentially. By August 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) had confirmed over 1 million cases and close to 22,000 related deaths. COVID-19 has unleashed socio-economic devastation: businesses and churches have closed and more households forced into poverty.
COVID-19 has also put a strain on existing gender inequalities. The average wages of women are already lower than that of men; now, more women who work in education, health, hospitality and small enterprises are forced out of their jobs. School closures have increased the need for childcare; exposed boys and girls to the likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse; and increased girls’ risks for early pregnancy. The pandemic has resulted in increased violence against women, broken homes, and more women-led households that need support.
The Jesuits of Eastern Africa Province (AOR) supports local communities in adapting to these new conditions. The Province, comprised of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia, works with local and international partners, including CJI, to ensure that those affected are empowered and have the resources to protect themselves. AOR values supporting women and children during this critical time through proper access to healthcare. The Province gave a major boost to medical staff and expectant and new mothers by providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) as well as medication to St Joseph the Worker Catholic Dispensary in Kenya and Cardinal Rugambwa Hospital in Tanzania.
The Province also provided PPEs and installed hand washing stations in all its schools across its countries of operation. Radio Kwizera in Tanzania carries out Information, Education and Communication activities by engaging women on the importance of personal protection and social distancing. The Jesuit apostolates in South Sudan distribute food and hand sanitizers. A lot more needs to be done.
The parishes of St Charles Lwanga and St Joseph the Worker in Kenya provide food, sanitization items and rent subsidies. Requests for support continue to rise, especially from women. Women and girls often bear the brunt of poverty and will search for any means to support their families.
Over 1,500 families have benefitted from the emergency response provided by the AOR, especially women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS and the elderly. Efforts include psychosocial support for those exposed to gender-based violence and discrimination.
Despite all the interventions across Africa, gender inequality, not COVID-19, remains the greatest threat to Africa’s future. Longstanding traditions, political systems and stereotypes of women continue to widen the gap. More initiatives should be implemented to empower women. Central to these are education, employment and health. By addressing the gender gap, both women and men will have equal access to decision-making and leadership opportunities, enhancing Africa’s chances of better development, economic growth and weathering the COVID-19 crisis.
We are grateful for how far we have come. Thank you to our partners, friends and well-wishers for your support, which has benefitted the communities we work with. ASANTE SANA!