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African Union commits to accelerating action to offset the effect of COVID-19 on gender equality

The Non-Aligned Movement is committed to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women. In order to promote the human rights of women, the NAM Member States have resolved to take appropriate measures at the national, regional and international levels to improve the quality of life and achieve gender equality and empowerment of women, to foster economic and social contribution of women to the well-being of the family and society, to promote social significance of maternity and paternity, through inter alia adopting proper socio-economic strategies and programmes and provisions of government services to all women, including access to healthcare services, education, justice services, transportation and housing, as well as economic empowerment and strengthening family well-being.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a multitude of challenges for achieving the goal of gender equality and women empowerment. According to the United Nations Women (UN Women), with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are, in turn, amplifying the impacts of the pandemic. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.

The African Union (AU), with most of its Member States also as NAM Members, has emphasised the calls for gender equality in the Declaration and Call for Action between the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). The Declaration and call for action is an outcome statement of the AUC, Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD) meeting with CSOs, to deliberate on scaling up actions to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender-specific concerns.

The Declaration urges the AU Heads of State and Government to formulate government actions and responses aimed at gender equality, through the following measures: 1) Establish measures and provide resources to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence, especially for those living in rural areas and those living with disabilities, including regulating standard reporting procedures and financing women and girls’ shelters for domestic gender-based violence and child abuse at household levels, with the participation of grassroots women’s groups; 2) Foster intergenerational co-leadership to ensure collaboration across generations and empowerment of young women and girls; 3) Ensure continued implementation of gender commitments in COVID-19 responses; 4) Prioritize women’s livelihoods, especially to rebuild their economies, including digital economy, in the financing and revitalization of businesses and the economy in line with the AU’s commitment on financial inclusion through disaster management budgets, as well as future economic stimulus measures in the continuing COVID-19 context, and future planning should consider a gendered approach; 5) Strengthen effective coordination between the AU, Members States and CSOs to ensure institutions and government implement their commitments to gender equality; 6) .Recognise women’s unpaid care work and prioritise the role of women as frontline health workers including midwives, nurses, community health workers, and facility support staff by putting in place measures to support their needs regarding their health, psychosocial wellbeing and work environment and;7) Continue to support the AUC-WGDD by providing necessary technical support to ensure Africa’s efforts to address the challenges African countries face because of the COVID-19 are gender-sensitive.

The AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira El-Fadil, lauded the visionary leadership of the African Union in swiftly mobilizing a collective African response backed by a comprehensive continental strategy to COVID-19. She noted the realization of the impactful implementation of the continental strategy called for enhanced collaboration between the AU, its Member States, development partners and CSOs to create and strengthen social protection systems that aim at reducing social and economic risk and vulnerabilities.

The AU Commission WGDD Acting Director, Victoria Maloka, underlined the need to find collaborative and cooperative ways to push forward the gender equality agenda adding that a multisectoral engagement was important in identifying gaps that persist in adopting a gender-responsive approach to COVID-19 at the national, regional, continental and global levels.

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