By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
The World Health Organisation (WHO), said the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the effective leadership of women in times of crisis in the world.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, stated this as the world celebrates International Women’s Day.
The celebration usually comes up on March 8 of every year.
This year’s theme; “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” seeks to recognize the achievements of women, and to take stock of progress towards gender equality.
The global health champion, in the message, believes that the new normal has shone light on the effective leadership of women, particularly 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.
According to Dr. Moeti, women have stepped-up to this challenge with courage and honesty, learning and adapting in a rapidly evolving situation.
“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.”
She equally noted that the pandemic will have long-term impacts on the social and economic fabric of the societies, including progress towards gender equality.
She explained that UN Women estimates that in 2021 eight million more women than men would be pushed into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
“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.
Dr. Moeti explained that over 80 mid-level and senior female staff in the region have participated in leadership training, and it’s currently 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 over 20 additional will come onboard in the coming months.”
She noted that women now account for 33% of their 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.”