In April 2020, the government released an Economic Recovery Plan (May 2020 – December 2021) as one of the strategies for economic recovery with a significant focus on social protection, providing a good foundation for the most vulnerable Rwandans to begin rebuilding their lives.
Information from women-focused civil society organisations, on the impact of Covid-19 however, shows that women’s economic and productive lives have been affected disproportionately and differently from men.
As such, virtual stakeholder engagement organised by Rwanda SDG5 Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and Network of International Non-Governmental Organisations (NINGO) members on Thursday, September 17 analyzed and discussed a more gendered, participatory national Covid-19 recovery plan that is responsive to the needs of vulnerable people, especially women and girls.
The gendered impact of Covid-19 and the associated lockdown measures identified commonly by organisations focused on gender-based violence (GBV), girls' education, women’s access to finance, and women’s voice and participation in relief and recovery.
Alex Twahirwa, Coordinator of Single Projects Implementation Unit at the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion noted that the pandemic threatens to push back the limited gains made on gender equality and exacerbate the feminization of poverty.
Members suggested making funding opportunities more inclusive for women such as selection criteria giving privileges for women, which were stated in the joint statement on the gender impact of Covid-19.
Anthony Busingye, Executive Secretary of AJPRODHO–JIJUKIRWA, added that women and girl- owned businesses were most affected, as they lost all their capital.
This, he said, is because 74 per cent of women lie within the informal business sector. As a result, laid-off workers are now doing all the domestic work.
“We need improved services that reduce women’s unpaid care work as well as invest in connecting women in rural areas by providing mobile loans and training them in digital transformation.
Economic recovery and social inclusion plans as well as budgeting must address challenges of the diverse women and girls and provide mechanisms, spaces and influence the economic recovery process at all levels,” he said.
The measures to contain the pandemic, Twahirwa added, also reinforce limitations to access to finance especially for the 67 per cent of women who do not use mobile money and reinforces men’s decision-making power over financial resources and likely to deepen inequalities.
Amina Umulisa Rwakunda, Chief Economist at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, said that the ministry is analyzing sectors that are most affected by the pandemic and how they can be supported in terms of giving them tax relief for a specific tax.
Currently, there is an exemption of taxes for teachers and employees in the hotel sector because those are the ones most affected.
“The current economic recovery plan is within the fiscal budget for 2020-2021. The eligibility criteria for the fund however is not designed to discriminate against women.
Maybe we should look at the capacity for women to apply for the recovery fund. Are they able to adjust their businesses so that they can request for a loan and present a bankable project that the banks can finance? Are they able to comply with the eligibility criteria for the recovery fund? Do they generally have the capacity to grab the opportunity?” she wondered.
GBV cases on the rise
Busingye added that GBV has been a concern even before Covid-19 as it has been on the increase.
During the Covid-19 lockdown in Rwanda, it was difficult to understand from official reports if the rates of GBV had increased and in what form.
Haguruka, recorded a 75 per cent increase in GBV reported cases in relation to previously recorded cases. The stay-at-home restrictions and other measures that restricted movement of people contributed to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence. Women and girls already in abusive situations were more exposed to increased control and restrictions by their abusers, with little or no recourse to seek support.
Further findings from Oxfam- Rwanda reveal that the lockdown exacerbated vulnerabilities for GBV victims, in particular teen mothers. 92.7 per cent of GBV victims interviewed revealed that their livelihood (primarily informal sector), access to food and financial resilience were greatly affected by Covid-19.
Teen mothers reached by both Kvinna till Kvinna and Oxfam - Rwanda, reported to have dropped out of vocational training and lost their small businesses. 70 percent of teen mothers currently lack any support for themselves and their children putting them at further risk of repeat GBV.
Mary Balikungeri, Director of Rwanda Women’s Network, emphasized the need for Government and development partners to invest more towards gendered response to the Covid-19 crisis ensuring an inclusive economic stimulus package that recognizes the linkage between economic assistance, social protection and GBV. GBV prevention strategies should be integrated into all national response strategies, not just economic recovery.Follow https://twitter.com/SharonKMugabo