Everything is a story and every one of us has a story inside of us waiting to be told. FEMNET continues to stand in solidarity with teenage girls across Africa and offers a brave space for African girls especially teenage girls to share their unique stories of joy, proud moments, heartaches and hurts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this brave space teenage girls echo the wise words of Maya Angelou “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”
In pursuit of ensuring that teenage girls have their agency, FEMNET conducted interviews with various teenage girls to find how they have been affected by the pandemic, whether they are managing to continue with their studies and the self-care techniques they have adapted to cope. These are personal stories highlighting teenage girls’ activism, optimism and reflections in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Read their insightful and inspirational experiences below:
Meet Maimuna from Kenya. She has been terrified by COVID-19. Many girls don’t really know if they will go back to school any time soon. She is sad and scared due to the high rate of death happening each day. During this season, Maimuna does not go outside so she keeps herself busy through online learning. Due to the lockdown, Maimuna has been close to her family than before. She misses learning in a classroom set up and interacting with her friends. Her message to other teenage girls is “Everything is going to be okay. Abide by the government directives, maintain good hygiene and stay indoors. Use social media for communication”.
Kate Faraj from Liberia has been feeling frustrated and bored because of the coronavirus pandemic. She misses going to school and church. She has been keeping herself occupied by raising awareness about COVID-19 in her community through an initiative called “Girls Ending COVID-19”. However, her efforts are limited because she has to be home by 3:00pm to catch up with her studies. One of Kates’s achievements during this season is being recognized in Liberia as a result of “Girls Ending COVID-19” awareness campaign. Some new lessons that Kate is carrying in the future are: unity is strength and honesty pays. She believes that it is important to be hard-working at home, at school and most of all in the society. Her message to the world is “stay safe, stay at home and follow all preventive measures. Together we can fight and conquer COVID-19”.
Jennifer Gatheca from Tanzania shares how on one hand she has experienced a lot of happiness when having fun with her family and on the other hand she has experienced sadness when she misses her friends and her usual routine. At times she is even frustrated with online classes and learning from home. Sometimes she is stunned. The pandemic has provoked thoughts of how everything can change overnight. Jennifer never got to say goodbye to her friends because she thought she would see them the next day. She has been busy with classes, following her usual school timetable and attending online conference calls with her teachers and peers. She also spends time reading her favourite novels, working on assignments and watching movies. One positive thing that has happened to Jennifer during this season is understanding the importance of being grateful. She is grateful that she used to go to school, having a family and friends who care for her and simply a person to laugh with and share good times together. Grateful for having a home and food especially during this pandemic. Jennifer says she appreciates even the slightest things she has that other people are not privileged to have. When the pandemic is over Jennifer wants to continue being grateful even for every hug or handshake that she shares with her friends. Her greatest achievement in this season is being part of the Pan African Women and Girls COVID-19 Response group led by FEMNET. Some habits she will carry along in the future is the concept of always keeping her hands clean and avoiding to touch her face. This because she believes that even though the virus might be under control by then, it will still be very important to maintain hygiene. Her message to the world and other teenage girls is “always be grateful in everything. I understand that at times we may forget, which is completely okay, but I think what is really important is always finding a way back to being grateful, knowing and understanding who we are and where we came from and where we are going which is quite unknown to us. I believe it’s important to be grateful because it is worthwhile to appreciate the slightest of things leading to happiness! Also remember it is not enough to want to make a change, you must initiate the journey towards it” Follow Jennifer on twitter: @jennifergatheca
When the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in her country Algeria, Besma Arbaoui was sure that it was going to be hard for the government, citizens and the healthcare system. However, she believes that if people remain optimistic and observe self-quarantine they will survive. Besma has been enjoying quality time with her family, helping people to stay positive, studying and volunteering even though it is a bit challenging. The good thing is she got a chance to start online pre-med school courses in readiness of joining school of medicine next year. She has also become a good cook, a social media influencer and writer. Bessma is proud to be connecting with great female leaders and having good time with family during this season. She is happy to be staying at home although she misses the kids and colleagues she works with as a volunteer. Her message to all girls is “Keep up, we can make our voice heard even from home and heal the world”. Follow her on Instagram: Katiaxrb and Facebook: Bessma Katia RB
Michelle Gwaikolo from Liberia has been feeling empathetic for the millions of people suffering today because of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. In her words the pandemic has been “terrorizing the entire world”. She continues to witness thousands of Liberians who don’t have the means to support themselves and their families during lockdown. Michelle is the founder of “Girls Ending COVID-19” a campaign that seeks to enlighten her community about the coronavirus pandemic. She does this in partnership with two other teenage girls and together they have been helping other teenagers and elders to maintain safety precautions against coronavirus. Michelle has made it her obligation to raise awareness about coronavirus by dedicating two days per week to do this. Along with her friends she has reached many communities and she is happy to be influencing her country in this time of need. Michelle has experienced a lot of positive things in this season including receiving positive remarks from the community around her. Her low moments during this lockdown was dropping out of school and the closing down of her church. However, she has learnt that working as a team helps in coping with whatever difficulties a person may face. Follow her on Instagram: Michelle16gwaikolo and Facebook: Michelle Gwaikolo
Yvonne Evy is from Uganda but she lives in Nairobi, Kenya with her family. She has been experiencing mixed feelings. On one had she is happy to be at home but on the other hand she misses physical interactions with friends at school. Her daily routine starts at 7.00am. By 8:00 am she begins online classes till 3.00pm. After classes, she takes time to do school assignments, go out for a walk in the evening, watching movies, catching up with friends, helping with house chores and sleeping. She has been able to connect with a lot of people whom she had not talked to for years and bond more with her family. Sadly, she lost a family member during the lock down. It was a sudden death and a traumatizing experience especially due to the travel restrictions. It was difficult for her family to maintain social distancing and be emotionally strong. Fortunately, Yvonne has maintained high productivity levels and she is always getting things done. “I’m proud of that” she emphasized. During the lockdown, she has been able to engage with other adolescent girls from organisations such as Polycom Development in Kibera, Kenya. She is also in touch with 13 girls who participated in ICPD25 summit, her former classmates and a few close friends who are studying in foreign countries. Through social media (WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram) they share views and experiences about the effects of the pandemic. Her key highlight during this deadly pandemic is when she successfully passed her mock exams which she did online. In addition, she has increased her knowledge and awareness on COVID-19. She encourages other adolescent girls to use the internet to develop new life skills. Her message to all teenage girls is “treasure and cherish each and every moment as if it is your last chance because no one knows what can happen at any moment. Be patient with others and lend a helping hand where needed. Keep a positive spirit at all times and follow the all safety procedures.” Follow her on twitter @yvonne_evy and Instagram @yvo_ev
Yvonne from Kenya is little stressed but she is managing. School has been keeping her relatively busy. As a result of online learning, her computer skills have improved significantly. Other than that, she has been taking time to explore new skills. She enjoys having more time to read, something she had missed.
Being away from all her friends has been difficult. “Being separated from them is probably the worst thing about this pandemic” she said. Her advice to other teenage girls is “don’t force productivity on yourself or convince yourself that you have make a lot of significant achievements with all this extra time. In addition, you don’t have to lose weight or become an expert in something new unless you want to. Take time to relax, spend time with your family and yourself.”
Laura from Kenya has been feeling sad for those who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic. She often wakes up quite late and this has affected her daily routine. She has been procrastinating a lot hence submitting her assignments late. She is intentionally spending more time cooking hence refining her hobby of cooking and trying to come up with new recipes. She also watches YouTube videos and still discovering other things that she is passionate about. She has also been intentional in establishing a closer relationship with her siblings.
Her message to all girls is “let us embrace optimism and use the opportunity to establish bonds amongst us. This pandemic is just temporary. It will soon wither away. During this season let us better ourselves and reflect hence have peace of heart, soul and spirit”.
Gloria from Kenya has been trying to adapt to the new normal. She spends time studying and learning new skills. She now has plenty of time to focus more on her studies as well as engage in some fun activities she likes to do during the holidays.
However, Gloria finds it stressful not being able to freely go out and socialise with her friends. Her message to the world is “stay strong, stay safe. Once this season is over, never let your guard down and do not allow yourself to get carried away by the material things in this world”.
Neema Ngesa from Kenya has been feeling many things – frustration, boredom, sadness but at times happy. Since the closure of all schools in Kenya as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Neema has been doing a lot of art because art helps her keep calm. “I LOVE art” she emphasizes. She has established a daily routine of waking up to make herself breakfast. Sometimes she spends time rearranging her room over and over, watching or making tik toks videos, drawing, painting and working on her school assignments. She pointed out that her artistic skills have improved to the extent that her mother supported her to get a personal tik tok account so that she can be sharing her art work videos online.
Neema shares one of low moment during this pandemic “I have lost many friends during this lockdown only because people started showing their true colours. Well I guess people never change, its only that the mask fell off. I have then learnt to be true to myself”. She has taken time to enhance various skills and reflect. So far, she has achieved her goal in learning how to make over ten foreign dishes. “I’m quite proud of myself”. She has learnt that God is her best friend and giving up is not an option and believing in yourself is all that it takes. She really likes sharing her experience because it helps her go back and look at how she has been fairing on during the on-going quarantine and discover that she can do much more to keep herself calm and sane. Her parting shots to fellow teenage girls “always be yourself, if you are not yourself around someone that person is not and never will be your friend”. Follow @_.artandcat._ tiktok to see her art work
Compiled by Esther Nyawira, Project Lead for Young Women and Teenage Girls, FEMNET
In 2014 during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, countries imposed nationwide lockdown to manage the spread of the virus. After the epidemic West Africa countries such as Sierra Leone came up with different strategies ranging from economic recovery, to getting the education system back on track after 10 months of school closures. Humanitarian actors and academics recognized the gendered impacts of the disease and the response on women and girls, as well as the long-term recovery implications for women and girls in DRC. As we currently watch the world at its worst vulnerable situation, questions are mounting. What if Tanzanian Government issues lock down? What will be the impacts of such a lockdown, what will happen to women, girls, and children living with abusive partners or relatives?
Why am I asking this, because I’m trying to link COVID-19 and issues of power relation, gender norms that perpetuates power imbalance and gender inequity, existing poverty, where the majority of poor people in Tanzania are women. I’m thinking about low income earners who will likely lose their jobs, increasing stress and anxiety, frustrations and tensions which might accelerate abuse. If we are forced to lock down, is the government capable and prepared to support families? Do we have proper facilities to support survivors of domestic violence? Do we have means of reporting and getting help immediately? Do we have strategies in place that include supporting low income earners? Observing, China: Early evidence from China suggests that domestic violence has dramatically increased – in some parts of China it has tripled during the epidemic. Organizations dealing with GBV have observed that the extended quarantine and other social distancing measures have created additional GBV as a result of household stress over economic and health shocks combined with forced coexistence in narrow living spaces (Wanqing, 2020; Rigoli, 2020).
Economic challenges during COVID-19 have affected businesses in Tanzania. Workers have been scheduled to work from home and some have been laid off. There is unemployment for private sector workers and entrepreneurs. Limited form of accessing funds and asset, food and other necessities are increasingly becoming a challenge.
In Tanzania the intimate partner violence (IPV) and abuses vary. Data on different forms of violence against women shows that the lifetime physical and/or sexual IPV is at 42 %. In the last 12 months, IPV stood at 30%. Official national statistics is not avaialble for lifetime non-partner sexual violence. Additionally, data from a UN Women report (2018) shows child marriage stood at 31 % and female genital mutilation/cutting at 10%.
This violence is witnessed every day and spares no class. There is increased household tension and domestic violence due to forced coexistence, economic stress and fears about the virus.
Financial challenges will force women and girls to accept money and gifts to sustain living, to support themselves and their family. There is a possibility of sexual harassment at work places for fear of women to lose their jobs during and after this pandemic.
Note: Shame seems to affect women to seek help for such behaviors, but an important factor in not seeking help may be that women who wish to report violence and/or leave abusive situations have limited opportunity to flee and escape have few places to go where they can get support. Having no money to leave, to find shelter, or to buy food is one of the critical reasons why women and girls stay in violent relationships. Women who earn an income who are in coercive and/or violent relationships often have this income controlled by their partner by actionaid.org,uk report 2018
Police and Justice System can be overwhelmed during the pandemic, to draw attention towards violence against women and allow perpetrators to get away with such acts. I recommend increased awareness and education through media, religious institutions, communities and traditional social structures to condemn such acts and offer humanitarian assistance to reduce tension and frustrations.
Written by Ms. Upendo Chitinka, Tanzania
Shirika lisilo la kiserikali limeanzisha campaign ya kuhamasisha jamii ili kusaidia wanawake wenye ulemavu na watoto wa kike katika kipindi hiki cha ugonjwa wa COVID-19.
Mkrugenzi wa Peace Life For People Disability Foundation, Sophia Mbeyela amesema wameanzisha kampeni inayoitwa “Tusimame Nao” ili jamii ijitokokeze kuchangia chochote na kuwapa mahitaji maalumu.
“Mara nyingi janga lolote lina potokea nchini au nchi nyingine wanawake na watoto wanaathirika sana naomba tusimame pamoja nao katika kipindi hiki cha Corona kwa changia kitu chochote,” amesema.
Anasema jamii isimuache mtoto wa kike wala mlemavu katika kipindi hiki cha ugonjwa hatari. “Kuna familia nyingi za watu wenye mahitaji maalumu. Katika kundi hili wanakosa hata sabuni ambayo wewe unayo. Hakuna mwingine wa kuwasaidia ila ni jukumu langu mimi na wewe tuungane pamoja katika hili mchango wako utaokoa maisha ya wengine. Jilinde na uwalinde wengine”, amesema.
Imeandikwa na Hellen Nachilongo, (23 April 2020) – Dar es Salaam
The Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) invented a news innovation that creates awareness on coronavirus to wananchi as they wash their hands.
Technology called “COVID fighter” uses a solenoid to open water from the tap to wash people’s hands without touching a tap water and sanitizer. Solenoid is a mechanical switch that is activated by a magnetic coil to open and close an electric circuit, to open or close a tap and sanitizer bottle automatically. DIT computer department instructor Mr Othman Dazi told The Citizen that currently a lot of buckets are being sold for people to wash hands but they are not sure about its safety because a person touches a bottle of disinfectant and tap to clean the hands. “Hands are one of the most common ways that the coronavirus spreads from one person to another therefore, the innovation of” COVID fighter” will reduce the risks,” he said. “After seeing that a number of people are using ordinary buckets to wash hands, we have come up with a programmed automatic bucket that sense and provide coronavirus awareness when a person washes hands without touching it,” he said.
According to him, they were currently in final stages to assemble the technology and they expect that soon it will be on the market at an effective cost of TSh170, 000 each. He stressed that the first outbreak of coronavirus in the country made them to invent the technology because they saw how people were reacting when using ordinary buckets to wash hands.
Written by Hellen Nachilongo (23rd April 2020)
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.