Corona Virus: Time for Africa’s Reality Check

I am in self-quarantine because I visited one of the corona virus impacted countries. And because of that, I was unable to attend our gated community meeting on corona virus prevention (yes, I live in a gated community – it’s a privilege I need to check every now and then). Upon receiving the notes of the meeting, I was impressed by the levels of precaution community members are proposing: there will be sanitizers at the gate, no hosting gathering, delivery will be dropped at the gate etc.  What struck me was the contrast between these two lines: “We have sensitized the guards and caretakers to keep respectable distance, and wash their hand”; “We have suspended all day-house helpers’, please inform them in advance as they will not be allowed in.” Can you guess the sex of the two groups? Correct, all our guards and caretakers (who keep the compound clean) are men and all our day house helpers are women. Just to be clear, community members have agreed, women workers will be suspended while men are keeping their jobs.

This is just a glimpse of how gendered the impact of corona virus is and will be if left unchecked. I know, as the rule of thumb, that women will be impacted the most, but guilty as charged, I felt powerless to do anything, or say anything. Now, it is on my backyard. As I am writing this blog post, I am engaging with my community members to ensure our domestic workers continue to be paid, especially now when they need this income the most.What is happening in my community might be happening everywhere. We know most of the women earn their income from the informal sector. With the lockdown, their daily income is gone, as their informality makes them less qualified for ‘bail out packages’ for their poverty levels do not attract attention of decision makers. They are at the periphery of power with no direct phone line to presidents, member of parliaments or influencers. They are on their own.

As government and companies in the global north have started to implement what for so long has been labeled ‘radical ideas’ on universal health coverage, housing for all, basic income, equitable access to knowledge and information etc, in Africa, we are not engaging in candid conversation on what ‘lockdown’ means to a family of 10 in Buguruni kwa Mnyamani sharing a small unventilated room? What does it mean to millions of women who still have to walk miles and miles to fetch water to clean their hands and the hands of others? Or what does it to farmers, street vendors, urban poor, and many others?

I can’t stop wondering if our governments and African people are doing all they can to ensure everyone is safe and decently locked-down  One of the biggest corona virus lessons to me is, we are as safe as they are! We shouldn’t treat lockdown as a privilege to the few of us who can ‘work from home’ with fast internet and who can afford to order groceries online.

The  corona virus is spreading in Africa and, we know for sure, if this trend continues, our health systems will soon be overwhelmed. What we have observed in Italy, China, Spain, Iran and a number of other countries is an object lesson. We need take drastic measures, such as social distancing, to flatten the curve. As a concerned citizen, I am curious to know if our governments are also prepared on how they could provide ‘in house’ health services, including delivery for pregnant women, infant care regular consultations for people with existing conditions, especially to those who depends on public facilities and with no health insurance. I can’t even start to imagine having complicated pregnancy in times like these.

Africa is uniquely different in so many ways, good and bad. As Africans, we need to learn from those who have been impacted the most and contextualize the learning to meet our African realities. The corona virus ought to be contained. We need to rigorously implement science based and statistical informed measures with strong commitment to inclusiveness. This is an invitation to fellow Africans to have a sincere discussion which should inform our collective actions and our policy position, especially when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable and communities at the periphery of power structure.

Article by Mwanahamisi Singano, a feminist activist  and FEMNET‘s Head of Programmes.


 NB: Originally published here and republished with permission by the author.

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