During the week of the International Women’s Day, Mzalendo Trust released a report on the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women dubbed “The Gendered Face of Covid-19”. The study set out to examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women livelihood, analyze whether changes in the livelihood exacerbated gender-based violence, including sextortion and finally examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women’s access to mental health, reproductive and general health services.
For context, the study cast the relationship between Covid-19 related corruption and its implication on women within the broader context of the pathways of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The first channel that the impact of the pandemic is observed is through the direct effects of the sickness brought about by Covid-19, which arises when the bread winner becomes ill. This leads to an overwhelmed health sector and manifestation of corruption in terms of failure to prudently manage allocated resources causing shortage of medical supplies, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for medical staff. In this instance, Covid-19 related corruption would have a multiplier effect on the access to healthcare services because financial resources are diverted for personal gains.
The second channel is the indirect effects of Covid-19 occasioned by “aversion behavior” emanating from the fear of catching the virus, which in turn leads to a fear of association with others and reduced labour force participation, closure of places of employment, disruption of transportation and restriction of entry of citizens from afflicted countries. This in turn affected the general economic output of the country which has been felt all the way to the household level.
Other ways in which the pandemic impacted women was that there was increased women’s childcare responsibilities and expectation to do the same owing to the closure of learning institutions in response to the pandemic. The resultant effect of this is that women’s participation in work outside the home was likely to fall. Additionally, healthcare resources normally dedicated to reproductive health were directed towards emergency response bringing the potential risk of higher rates of maternal and infant complications and mortality.
At the time of the study, 32% of the respondents felt that Covid-19 related corruption had a direct and extreme effect on their livelihood while another 49% felt it had an average effect on their livelihood. On the question of the financial position of the respondents in the wake of the pandemic, 45% noted a change in lifestyle. This particular change was a direct effect of either a loss of employment or pay cuts that then forced the respondents to make huge adjustments in their household, whether dietary, location of residence etc. to be able to make ends meet. While some of these changes could have been addressed with the stimulus packages being offered by the government, the lack of transparency and awareness on the stimulus packages led to some of the respondents feeling left out and/or missing out on the packages that could have offered financial relief.
63% of the respondents felt that economic hardship and loss of employment put them at greater risk of gender-based violence. Within the first three months of the pandemic, there was a significant rise in cases of domestic violence inflicted on women. This has been attributed to their loss of economic power and financial dependence on their partners. Experts further linked this to the rise in cases of stress, depression among their partners who then take it out on their wives. With minimal movement from their homes, majority of the victims felt they could not report the cases to local enforcement because they had no where to seek help from.
The findings of the report revealed that the Covid-19 related corruption only exacerbated other forms of corruption that were already prevalent and further weakened service systems. The diverted monies meant to cater to hospitals and the health care system at both national and county level meant that hospitals could not broaden their capacity to treat patients with general illnesses and Covid-19 hence turning away some patients who were met with overstretched hospitals and medics.
This study is basically a call to the powers that be to quickly intervene and bring corruption to a stop but more importantly to bring the responsible persons to justice and recover the stolen public funds. The fact remains that corruption, of any kind, steals from the potential of a state and her people and stunts the growth of the country.