Celebrating International Women’s Day in the Middle of a Pandemic

Mar 9th, 2021 | By | Category: Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Joshua Mirondo, youth writer for Transition Earth.

Community health worker during a home visit, providing family planning services and options to women in the community. This proactive program is supported by Reproductive Health Uganda. [Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)]

Community health worker during a home visit, providing family planning services and options to women in the community. This proactive program is supported by Reproductive Health Uganda. [Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)]

If COVID-19 were a baby we would be preparing for her first birthday in Uganda, as the first case was registered on 20th March 2020. But a situation that led to a standstill of essential services deserves no celebration, but rather a moment to sit down and reflect on how far we’ve come and then focus on ways how to recover. Is it here to stay? That’s the question I always ask myself whenever I see people wearing masks, or those without them who are not allowed to access some places or services. Whenever I am asked to sanitize my whole body while entering a building it doesn’t feel okay. Even when everyone prefers to call it the “new normal” I have never felt that way, because I refuse to get used to it and have hope of our lives getting back to the pre-COVID-19 ways.

On March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a day set aside to celebrate women and advocate for their rights. This year it comes in the middle of a pandemic.  So what are we celebrating about women? Towards the end of 2020, UN Women declared this year’s women’s day celebration theme as Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. The organization cited reasons for this theme as a way of recognizing the great energies of women and girls in determining a more equal future and recovery from COVID-19.

The pandemic realized the emergence of very powerful women leaders in Uganda, especially the Minister of Health, the Hon. Jane Ruth Aceng, and also Dr. Dianah Atwiine, a permanent secretary from the ministry. Both women were at the forefront to ensure mass sensitization of COVID protocols. For the past year, many women at both the national and local levels in Uganda been pivotal in ensuring that the virus is curbed.

As the country celebrated these gallant women, my mind was on Teopista (not her real name), a midwife whom I interacted with as I was on one of my trips in eastern Uganda.  I don’t want to share her name so as to protect her security. Teopista told me that when the pandemic happened, the hospital required staff to work for three straight days and rest for two. This was all good at the start and it happened for a while, until her husband started complaining, especially on the days she was on duty at the hospital. He told her to choose between family and working at a health center. This was a time when health centers had run out of service providers because some opted out due to overwhelming numbers of patients, or that their compensation stayed the same. Teopista said that she chose family over work since she couldn’t afford to the lose things she had worked for over time. However, her departure from the health center meant that the midwife-to-pregnant mother ratio was greatly affected.

The pandemic increased the vulnerability of women, with a rise in the cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases. According to UN Women, countries around the world have seen an alarming rise in reporting on violence against women, especially domestic violence, since lockdown measures due to COVID-19 were put in place.

In Uganda, between March 30 and April 28, a total of 3,280 cases of GBV were reported. Even though these cases existed before, the pandemic made them worse and led to emotional and physical harm to the victims. The laxity of the law and societal perceptions towards GBV also meant that the perpetrators have not been dealt with accordingly and they continue to degrade the dignity of humanity among communities.

In addition to domestic and unpaid care work, plenty of women in Uganda are also unemployed. The wake of the pandemic has left many people without job prospects, thus increasing their economic vulnerability. This also impacts their mental health, a serious issue in many countries.

COVID-19 has therefore changed the lives of women in Uganda and this is feared to be irreversible if nothing is done about it. The government should therefore invest in and loosen up processes that can boost women’s empowerment. For instance, the process of getting funds from the Emyooga Scheme (this is an initiative aimed at creating jobs and improving household incomes among Ugandans) has stringent measures which make it hard for women to achieve timely results.

A multi-sectoral approach to curb GBV should be emphasized at all levels. There should be greater support for empowering women and girls so that they are in a position to stand up against their abusers and be more willing to report cases if they are victimized. Systematic training and mentorship is also vital, especially among community leaders and influencers, to strengthen referral systems of the cases.

Therefore, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s plan and respond as if COVID-19 will never end and truly support people in need.


Joshua Mirondo is a digital marketer, blogger, photographer and volunteer at Reproductive Health Uganda.  

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