“Women have stepped-up to this challenge with courage and honesty, learning and adapting in a rapidly evolving situation.” This is the assertion of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
She stated this in her message to commemorate the 2021 International Women’s Day (IWD) with the theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.”
Part of her message reads; “On 8 March every year, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to recognize the achievements of women and to take stock of progress towards gender equality.
“This year’s theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the effective leadership of women, particularly in times of crisis – as Heads of State, as senior officials, experts and innovators, as business leaders, as 70% of the frontline health workforce (exposed to a heightened risk of infection), and as stewards of families and communities. Women have stepped-up to this challenge with courage and honesty, learning and adapting in a rapidly evolving situation.”
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti however said the pandemic has worsen the inequality that disadvantage women. Her words: “At the same time, inequities that disadvantage women have been exacerbated in this pandemic. Stay-at-home orders brought the livelihoods of many African women – working as hairdressers or market vendors, for example – to a standstill. Lockdowns, coupled with fears of infection, and health workforce shortages, are among the reasons for reports of drops in access to contraception, antenatal care and births in health facilities in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other countries. These restrictions, including school closures, also increased the risks of sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, and dropping out of school, particularly for girls.
“This pandemic will have long-term impacts on the social and economic fabric of our societies, including progress towards gender equality. UN Women projects that in 2021 eight million more women than men will be pushed into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
Moeti also said “At WHO we are providing guidance and technical support to governments to ensure the continuous delivery of essential gender-responsive services and to assess the barriers girls and women face in accessing these services.
“Thirty-six Member States in the African Region have integrated at least one gender-responsive measure in their national COVID-19 response plans. We have trained 155 health workers in 22 African countries to support women suffering from gender-based violence and to continue to safely deliver sexual and reproductive health and HIV services in the context of COVID-19.
“Within WHO, we remain committed to enabling women to advance in their careers and enhance their leadership potential. Over 80 mid-level and senior female staff in the Region have participated in leadership training and we are piloting its expansion to ministries of health. In the Republic of the Congo, 34 women leading decentralized primary health institutions participated in the programme.
“Last year we launched the Africa Young Women Champions Initiative in partnership with the UN volunteers programme, to recruit 100 UN volunteers in the African Region. Despite the immense challenges of the COVID-19 response, already 27 volunteers are on board, 93% are female and more than 20 additional will be onboarded in the coming months.
“Women now account for 33% of our workforce, up from 30% in 2015. We have established a mentoring programme, and a task force to promote a more conducive working environment for female WHO staff in the Region.
“In closing, this International Women’s Day I urge everyone to recognize the leadership skills and potential of women, towards moving us closer to gender equality. Overcoming inequities in our societies will lead to better health, development and prosperity for all people.”