Covid has reversed many women empowerment gains
The world commemorated the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, a day in which the globe takes stock of the achievement of women’s progress on social, political and economic fronts.
The celebrations of IWD in 2021 took place a year after the Covid-19 pandemic had finally arrived firmly in Africa, having scorched its way throughout the rest of the world.
From the reviews during IWD 2021 of the current status of women’s empowerment in Kenya and globally, the emerging picture is that this pandemic has had very adverse effects on women empowerment, to the point of reversing many gains. Indeed, the effects will be felt for many years to come.
One of the areas most affected is women’s education. For almost a year, schools remained closed as one of the containment measures against Covid-19.
Unfortunately, during that period, schoolgirls were impregnated in their hundreds and when schools reopened in January, many of them did not return, having become mothers or waiting to become mothers. Talk of lives and ambitions destroyed.
Others were married off by parents due to economic hardships. Communities that practice female genital mutilation had a field day.
Economic empowerment was also affected severely. Most businesswomen run micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
The containment measures included a curfew that forced businesses to close early, cessation of movement in and out of major towns and suspension of some business sectors.
This devastated businesses, especially MSMEs, and they closed in their thousands. Businesswomen were particularly impacted.
The hospitality industry — hotels, bars and restaurants and catering outlets — is a major employer of women where they work as waitresses, matrons, business owners, receptionists, salonists and masseurs. Those establishments remained closed for months.
Despite the reopening of the sectors, the bounce back has been slow, and employment sluggish in returning.
The explosion of commercial sex workers in areas such as Nairobi’s River Road is a direct result of desperate women pushed to seek a livelihood every which way.
The situation looks set to persist. Kenya is now facing a fourth wave threat. The bottomline is the economy will continue to struggle, and employment growth will be slow and laborious.
What does the government need to do? It needs to inject a major stimulus into the economy, which must have targeted interventions to start rolling back the adverse impacts of Covid on various areas of women empowerment.
Credit is especially critical to enable businesses to kickstart. Through the women-targeted financiers and empowerment groups, the government and its partners can channel credit to those women-run MSMEs that want to jumpstart businesses.
The government is already offering a stimulus package to hotel establishments to enable them restart businesses.
As this happens, employment will begin to recover. Tourism has started making a nascent recovery.
Tourism recovery will remain a tenuous affair, as the government balances between the risk of more tourists and importing Covid, especially the new mutants scorching their way around the globe.
But even as the government targets women-led businesses for stimulus, it must not forget there are thousands of women — mothers and daughters — who depend on businesses owned by men breadwinners.
The lot of such women was severely affected when the men lost jobs, or their businesses collapsed.
The government must, therefore, ensure all MSMEs have access to stimulus to jumpstart businesses.
Otherwise, it will have consigned a huge chunk of women to continued adversity because their breadwinners will remain mired in the economic doldrums.
In the education front, the government must use the administrative machinery to trace all girls who dropped out of school because of pregnancy and early marriages and facilitate, and indeed enforce, their return to school. An entire generation will be lost if nothing is done to rescue these girls