By Ade Wede Kekuleh*
As COVID-19 rages through the world, its effects are felt globally. Irrespective of race, color or creed, the COVID-19 pandemic is killing people everywhere. As is usually the case, women and children bear the brunt of any pandemic.
In my part of the world— the African continent, the number of infections and death toll remains comparatively lower than other parts in Europe and the United States. In Liberia, the government has initiated some measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, in a society where women, many of whom have to singlehandedly fend for children without many employment opportunities, it is even more difficult.
In the words of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, “the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our lifetime. It is above all a human crisis with severe health and socio-economic consequences” (Guterres, A. “Now is ‘not the time’ to reduce funding for the World Health Organization in COVID-19 fight”, 14 April 2020, UN News).
Intersectional approaches to battling COVID-19 must take into account the peculiar challenges women face, which make them more vulnerable to contracting the virus. The social expectations of women being caregivers creates the onus of looking after children who are ultimately out of school because of COVID-19. Many women live from hand to mouth daily, meaning they must go to the market or wherever they can find some means of survival or livelihood to be able to feed their children. With the government of Liberia’s compulsory lockdown each day, women are expected to be at home or in their communities at that time, thereby limiting the little opportunities they have to fend for food and make a modest income.
Another pressing challenge facing women and the current lockdown measures in Liberia the heightened negative impacts of the persistent poor health care system on pregnant women who go into labor. Childbirth can take place at any time. During lockdowns, women in labor must go to some medical facility to give birth. In the event that ambulances are not available, women will have to walk far distances, posing a risk to the woman and unborn child. The result has been women having to give birth on the way in unsanitary conditions, and in many cases, losing their lives and those of their unborn child(ren).
To resolve these issues, instead of a lockdown, women, men and children must be properly educated about measures to reduce the transmission. Once information dissemination is clear and concise, people know what actions to take to avoid contracting COVID-19. Precautionary measures taken by government to reduce the spread of COVID-19 should take into account Liberia’s experience during the Ebola crisis. Lessons learned from the Ebola crisis could be used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the country and beyond. Once again women in Liberia find themselves at the forefront of fighting another challenge to their existence after having Prayed the devil back to hell and fought the Ebola crisis.
The women of Liberia have constantly demonstrated their resilience and agency. In addressing the current pandemic, the voices of women should be heard at the decision-making tables— from the seats of government, to the community levels and at home. The voices of women should be given the respect and recognition they deserve, for our efforts to address the pandemic is a collective one. Women of Liberia ended a 14-year war: including their voices in COVID-19 decision-making responses should therefore not be underestimated. Women of Liberia are holding half of our sky.
Ade Wede Kekuleh is a Liberian woman, an Attorney-at-Law, member of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, a Chartered Accountant, a journalist, author, and ardent advocate for the rights of women and girls. Her areas of interest are women in decision-making, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and providing a platform for women and girls living with HIV to live lives of dignity, even in the face of the pandemic.
The views expressed in this entry belong solely to the author.