As the world stumbles upon its unpreparedness to a global pandemic, women and girls are yet again on the frontlines of this crisis, and gender inequalities are being exacerbated by COVID-19. The new world that will emerge after the immediate health crisis is over is going to be a hotbed for gender discrimination, violence against women and marginalized groups, and diminished access to rights for women and girls.
Africa, despite facing less severe overall cases, is no exception. The data is already pouring in. COVID-19 is radically diminishing African women’s access to reproductive health services, including maternal health. Movement restrictions are also putting vulnerable women and girls, LGBTQI folks, and other marginalized groups at increased risk of domestic and intimate partner violence. African countries are reporting an immense increase in gender-based violence cases, as well as violence against children. For example, a third of all crimes reported since COVID-19 in Kenya were related to sexual violence. When it comes to the economic consequences of this crisis on African women, one can also start seeing a very clear outcome: they will once again be pushed back down to the bottom of the economic ladder. The crisis will accentuate unpaid care work and women’s challenges in finding and maintaining employment. A United Nations study forecasts that the greatest economic impact of COVID-19 will be in sub-Saharan Africa, where “up to half of the new poor will live.” Effects will include higher infant and maternal mortality, undernutrition, malnourishment, and educational achievement, among other indicators.
We have been there before, and we know how long it will take to regain some of the pre-COVID19 progress we had been seeing on the continent (think decades). African women and girls are going to need development partners who can deliver both transformative and feminist support. Continuing business as usual simply won’t be enough.
Under a Feminist Foreign Poilcy, the U.S. government can be that kind of partner for women and girls in Africa. Such a policy will allow U.S. agencies to more broadly engage with civil society, and open direct communication channels and partnerships with the feminist movement, in Africa and beyond. More funding will go to local women-led and gender-focused organizations, supporting organizational strengthening and financial capacity. Co-creation and local ownership of foreign assistance will be prioritized, and local constituencies will inform development programs from their conception through evaluation.
Beyond this, a U.S. Feminist Foreign Policy would address the key priorities faced by African women and girls, especially in light of the COVID-19 crisis. It would reinstate the basic principle of bodily autonomy, and freedom from discrimination, violence, coercion, exploitation, and abuse. It would embrace sexual reproductive rights and health, supporting those working on the frontlines of this issue, and delivering much needed resources to reach important goals (meeting all SRHR needs in Sub-Saharan Africa would cost $$17.2 billion annually). Second, it would make peace and security a key priority. COVID-19 is exacerbating security threats for Africa. As such, post-crisis efforts will need to be inclusive of women peacemakers and prioritize the safety of all African women and girls. A U.S. Feminist Foreign Policy would make the U.S. government a strong and resourceful ally in this quest. Finally, a U.S. Feminist Foreign Policy would focus on environmental integrity as a key area of action, enabling women in Africa to amplify their work on protecting natural resources and their communities while also building the economic empowerment through business models that respect the earth and the environment.
Batonga believes in a world in which the hardest-to-reach African women and girls are not just numbers or marginalized groups in need of services, but co-creators of their own future, and global development actors and leaders for their communities, countries, and continent. Beyond the ideological imperative to support the call for feminist foreign policies, the Batonga Foundation believes that a U.S. Feminist Foreign Policy can radically change the lives of the hardest-to-reach African girls and women, especially in the post-COVID19 crisis. It will save lives and contribute to building a more just and equal future.