Impact of Covid-19 on rural women and children in DRC
“We shall die of hunger if not of that Corona. Look, any women among us have been obliged to stay in the house. The house is very small and you, the husband and yourself are closed in for weeks and weeks.” COFAPRI member.
By Mugisho Ndabuli Theophile, Founder/Exec. Director, COFAPRI
The year 2020 has been marked by the disturbance of the pandemic of the Corona Virus Covid-19.
This virus that reportedly originated from China’s City of Wuhan reached the whole world in less than six months. The pandemic has been intensifying the pre-existing imbalances, showing weaknesses in economies and in politics, which all affect the society. The virus has propagated to the point that economic and social layers have deteriorated. There has developed economic and social stress, together with limited movement of people as well as the application of social distancing strategies that are affecting the lives of people.
On the other hand, locking people in their houses or rooms has resulted in an increase in harm to women, especially in remote villages of Africa where there is a lot of abuse to women due to traditional norms of hegemony and masculinities. These isolation measures have contributed a lot to gender-based violence that has exponentially increased these days.
This is the case of DRC village women who are now denouncing this situation in these words:
“We are many around here. We shall die of hunger if not of that Corona. Look, any women among us have been obliged to stay in the house. The house is very small and you, the husband and yourself are closed in for weeks and weeks. Can you not see this puts us in the mouths of hungry lions? They no longer hunt because the preys are now near them. Living locked together with those who beat, rape, insult and spit at us is to force violence on us. I think this disease came to add burden on what we already have.”
This situation depicts one of the many consequences of the virus that are compounded in the situation of vulnerability, abuse, misunderstandings that come to break family and social harmony that were already fragile due to abusive social norms. Indeed, there is limited family, societal and national capacity to seek or provide more services; the same applies to people with regard to getting food for survival.
One COFAPRI woman from Kabamba says:
“Look now as we have been locked in the homes and the village has been like a cemetery. We cannot stand this; this is killing us. See our small businesses are blocked; many of our activities are not moving because of nowhere to purchase. If you go out, you hear Corona, you move left, Corona. Is this really life? We and our children are at risk; Corona, violence and hunger.”
Many women are raising the issue of their health too. During this period people can endure for a bit – but how will this be managed after the plague? The recovery period should focus more on an equal world where there are attitudes of resilience to crises that will occur in the future.
The children are also victims of this pandemic as they cannot go to school. Nothing is put at their disposal so that they can learn the basics of their school contents while they are home. Lack of support while at home has caused many to be exploited.
“My children have become hard in the head. They were good children but since this kind of Corona came all the children are now at home. It is not easy to control them; some people are making them work hard at jobs in brick molding and they cannot even pay them. We do not want this virus to continue. Many children are also becoming thieves and drug addicts. We had never seen something like this since we are on this earth.”
Young girls have been affected by this pandemic. Women and men have been concerned about the number of pregnancies that are occurring in their villages. Producing children outside a marriage is seen as a social mistake in many of the villages of DRC. This comes to add weight on the existing issues of fatherless children who were born during the wars through sexual assaults. These children will grow without paternal affection and support, which may cause them to be discriminated against when they reach the age of socialising. Such mothers may end up in the sex business in order to help their children grow, which may cause the contamination of STDs and HIV/AIDS and, if the mother dies, the child will live in even more difficulties.
The women have also been struggling a lot to feed their animals due to the lockdown caused by the Covid-19.
Very regrettably, COFAPRI Executive Secretary, Valerie Bahati, has not been able to visit DR Congo from our home in Rwanda at all during 2020 due to the COVID lockdown, though of course over all the preceding years since our formation in 2009, she had been regularly making the journey up into the remote mountain regions where COFAPRI operates.
Nevertheless, despite the challenges, COFAPRI has been continuing its activities as much as possible in the current circumstances – thanks to our experienced and reliable local Coordinators on the ground there.