“While we all around the world are focusing on combating the COVID-19 pandemic we need to ensure that we do not divert all our energy and forget the health, rights and wellbeing including meaningful engagement of young people in the same response. My Age has been working in aspects of youth inclusion in the response to the pandemic through various information dissemination, accountability and access to information services as well as looking at building the communities that we want post-pandemic.”
Onward Chironda: Executive Director
My Age’s 7 Recommendations for youth inclusion in the response to COVID 19
It is evident that COVID-19 affects young people differently especially girls and young women that pandemics exacerbate inequalities for girls and women. As the world faces this pandemic, there is need to ensure the unique needs of girls and women are addressed, and their unique expertise is leveraged. This includes positioning girls, women, and young people — in all their diversity and in all settings — front and centre in the emergency responses, in social and economic recovery efforts, and in how we strengthen our health systems for the long term.
My Age Zimbabwe has put together the following actions be included as part of COVID-19 response.
- Apply best practices in youth participation in all COVID related efforts.
All policies, programs, and investments, including CIVID -19 response mechanisms, must be designed together with young people so they don’t overlook or have unintended consequences for young people especially gils and young women. Young people — in all their diversity and in all settings — must be meaningfully and authentically engaged in decision-making about their own lives and the communities where they live and work. For an inclusive and representative response and recovery, women-focused and youth-led organizations must be included in partnerships, and all COVID-19 decision-making bodies must embrace diverse and inclusive leadership.
- Protect and support those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response — the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
Women are 70% of the health workforce and are leading on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Front line responders such as health workers and social service providers must be guaranteed protection, support, and fair salary packages. This includes safe working conditions, appropriate equipment, equal and emergency/hazard pay, safe housing, and access to services that reflect their needs as individuals, such as mental health services.
- Safeguard maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the bedrock of gender equality.
In past pandemics and crises, emergency response has resulted in de-prioritizing and de-funding essential health and social services for girls and women — directly threatening their health and rights. As the government responds to the COVID-19 crisis, funding and access to SRHR, including modern contraception, Menstrual Health commodities, maternal health services and safe childbirth, as well as telemedicine, must be prioritised. In settings impacted by both COVID-19 and humanitarian crisis, this includes implementing lifesaving activities that uphold SRHR at the outset of all emergencies.
- Prioritise gender equality in health systems strengthening.
We must rebuild our health systems to ensure they meet the needs and realities of all, including in times of crisis. This includes prioritizing and funding Primary Health Care and Universal Health Coverage grounded in gender equality and human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Decision makers must invest in emergency preparedness, research and development. And health systems must be strengthened to focus on girls and young women living in humanitarian settings and to meet their needs.
- Uphold and fully fund services to reducegender-based violence.
Data show that gender-based violence like domestic violence is increasing dramatically during the COVID-19 crisis, likely worsened by quarantines and limited mobility that isolate women with their abusers. Legal and support systems to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including women’s centres, shelters, domestic violence helplines, and legal aid, must continue to operate and expand where needed, and perpetrators must be held accountable. This includes services for those in living in displacement settings, such as refugee camps, and preventing and ending sexual violence and exploitation.
- Maintain equitable access to Education for Girls
Equal access to education is foundational to girls’ and adolescents’ livelihoods and wellbeing, and this pandemic risks reversing years of progress in education equity. School closures can exacerbate gender inequalities, especially for the poorest girls and adolescents who face a greater risk of early and forced marriage and unintended pregnancy during emergencies. Closed schools likely means girls and adolescents are taking on additional responsibilities at home like looking after siblings or caring for sick relatives, which can lead to them falling behind in school work or dropping out. All young people must have resources, tools, and social support to remain engaged in learning during school closures and re-enter the formal education system once the crisis has waned.
- Challenge gender norms to encourage a better balance of household duties . Women traditionally carry the majority of care and labor responsibilities within families, placing them on the frontlines of COVID-19 response at home. Women’s traditional role as caregivers makes them more susceptible to infection from sick family members, and increased childcare demands make it difficult to balance work and home responsibilities. To challenge traditional gender norms and redistribute unpaid care and household labor, leaders should implement social policies such as paternity leave, social programs to encourage male engagement, educational programs in school to promote gender equality, and should model equal roles in their own lives.
We urge civil society, governments, the private sector, and development partners to use these recommendations to all COVID-19 preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. By putting young people especially girls and women front and centre of these efforts.