The world as we see it is full of diversity; diversity which sometimes scares me. In every society or human population, there are those considered to be” marginalized”. That is, being excluded from mainstream socio-economic, cultural and political life owing to their personal characteristics including age, sex, race, religion and income status. Some well-known marginalized populations include women, children, people living with disabilities, refugees and persons belonging to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. With the unforeseeable end of the novel Corona virus looming at every corner, it raises serious questions about how this pandemic may affect such marginalized groups. The focus here will be on women and children.
The year 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. To those who may not be aware of the Platform for Action, it was the declaration adopted in the Fourth World Conference on Women in September, 1995. The Beijing Platform for Action focused on the emancipation of women and gender equality and this year was supposed to usher the world into a trailblazing era of gender equality. With the surge in the COVID-19 cases, there is fear that the achievements made now may go down the drain. The COVID-19 is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and inequities by exposing women to more deepened socio-economic exclusion. Generally, women receive very relatively lesser income than the male counterparts. Hence, with the various restrictions and lockdowns, they are more likely to feel the economic impacts of such measures more than their male counterparts.
Again, with the emergence of the novel Corona virus, there has been an increase in the number of unpaid care work. Women, particularly those in the Africa sub-region are culturally bound to perform most of the domestic work including fetching for firewood, cooking, washing clothes and doing the dishes as well as burdened with ensuring the wellbeing of the family. With most schools having shutdown, children now spend a lot of their time at home and it is the primary responsibility of the mother to keep them all in good health and wellbeing. This double burden imposed by women and mothers as a result of the outbreak of this pandemic is overwhelming.
Another striking issue is that the restrictions on movement and lockdowns have the potential of exacerbating gender-based and domestic violence. Global estimates from the World Health Organization (2020) posits that 1 out of 3 women have experience physical or sexual violence. Now, with the outbreak of this pandemic, “many women are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at the same time that services to support survivors are being disrupted or made inaccessible” (United Nations, 2020). Women who live with abusive spouse are on the verge of experiencing their worst form of violence in their life time given the fact that researchers and scientist are not certain on when they can produce a vaccine. This implies that all things being held constant, we are going to experience a significant spike in the incidence of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual violence against women. Abusers may base on these restrictions to exert their control over their partners (WHO, 2020).
Now I will drive the focus towards children. A child according to the WHO is an individual between the ages of 10-19 forming the operational conceptualization of children in this article. With the closure of schools as a result of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19, children are at increased risk of not reporting abuse or violence. Many children who live with abusive parents are not likely to seek support from friends and family as a result of the imposed restrictions and lockdown. Subsequently, they are likely to live traumatized and stressed during this heightened period of the pandemic. This can serious affect their mental health.
Additionally, children who find themselves in families that suffer from the impacts of social inequalities are very likely to feel the negative impact of the COVID-19 than their counterparts in relatively well-to-do families. The social inequalities of such children exacerbate their suffering during this period of this pandemic. Also, children may be forced by this circumstance to engage in acts that may be categorized as child labor simply as a means of survival in these trying times there by affecting their physical health. It is important to note that children are likely to become stressed as there is a drastic shift in their education system. Now, many children across the globe have to study via eLearning systems. This drastic shift in the status quo can place more stress on the child and becomes very profound for children who do not have access to the internet.
In summary, this article sought to explore the potential implications of the novel corona virus on marginalized populations with emphasis on women and children. Fundamentally, the article argues that existing social inequalities suffered by women and children has the propensity to exacerbate their risks of suffering physical and sexual violence; increase in unpaid care work/labor. I therefore recommend that the various Ministry of Communication and Ministry of Health embark on intensive sensitization and education for the total population. However, there should be funds dedicated to the tracing of marginalized groups in recognized marginalized communities so that they can be reached with social interventions that will alleviate that existing social inequalities in order to cope with the various restrictions and measures put in place to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Also, there is the need to establish mechanisms to ensure that communities facing restrictions on movement have continued access to child-friendly, holistic care for children experiencing violence.