“Senegal has several at-risk populations in the current context. If total isolation is declared, these people will be unable to meet their basic needs for food and shelter.” - COVID-19 Response Group of Senegal’s women’s organizations.
Like the rest of the world, Senegal has been facing the COVID-19 pandemic since the first case was declared on its territory on March 2. Contrary to what the World Health Organization initially feared, as of yet the coronavirus does not seem to have generated the dreaded sanitary emergency on the African continent. In Senegal, as of June 5, there were 4,155 confirmed cases, 2,776 recovered and 51 deaths. These numbers are to be taken with caution, as not all people showing symptoms are being tested.
Learning from its experience in the fight against the Ebola virus in 2013 and 2014, the Senegalese government reacted quickly by declaring a state of emergency. The decision was accompanied by numerous measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19: closing of borders, prohibition of gatherings, bans on intercity transportation, reduction of the number of passengers in public transit, mandatory use of face masks in public places, promotion of barrier gestures and strict curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. These measures have been gradually relaxed over the weeks. The Senegalese president also announced a 1.5 billion dollars (CAD) plan to support the health sector, households, businesses and members of the diaspora.
The measures taken by the government to curb the spread of the virus have particularly affected the most vulnerable populations (homeless children, talibés, domestic workers, shopkeepers, poor families, homeless and begging families, etc.), because they live from the informal economy and are unable to follow the health instructions broadcast in French.
In the current context, women’s health is particularly at risk in Senegal. Primarily because they are overrepresented among front-line health personnel, but also because access to sexual and reproductive health is becoming more complicated due to the reallocation of medical resources to fight the pandemic. Some women struggle to get the monitoring they need during pregnancy, others to obtain contraceptive products, and others yet have a hard time finding essential menstrual hygiene products.
Many women also find themselves in more precarious economic and social situations than before. The closure of schools and of many economic activities have caused an increase in the domestic workload for women, while considerably affecting their income.
At home, financial uncertainty and other tensions are widely exacerbated by the confinement and curfew. Women are therefore particularly vulnerable to domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violences.
“Since the start of the pandemic, more than 100 cases of domestic violences have been recorded, only one of which was against a man. We can safely say that COVID-19 has aggravated these violences,” said Ndèye Dieumb Diagne of the Association pour la promotion des femmes sénégalaises (APROFES) in Kaolack.
Even before the announcement of the measures taken by the Senegalese authorities, civil society organizations working for the rights of women and girls had already started to mobilize and to launch initiatives to support the most vulnerable populations.
At the initiative of the Network on Security and Peace for Women in the ECOWAS (NOPSWECO), CECI’s partner for the Women’s Voice and Leadership project in Senegal (WVL-Senegal), a COVID-19 response group was created to collect and distribute food, masks and other hygiene products. Initially made up of five organizations, the response group now includes fifty of them.
In addition, actions are carried out in the different national languages by these organizations throughout Senegal in order to raise awareness about the situation, including through discussions on the airwaves of community radios and through door-to-door campaigning. Some organizations have also produced informative video clips which they share on social networks.
Women’s organizations also stressed the importance of raising awareness among policy makers of the disproportionately heavy consequences of the pandemic on women and girls, and of the need to implement adequate mitigation measures.
The WVL-Senegal project is determined to support the momentum of its partners to fight the spread of COVID-19 and limit the impact of the pandemic on women and girls.
Specific support is offered to foster the participation of our partners in radio and television programs in order to sensitize the Senegalese population to the unequal economic and social impacts of the coronavirus and to prevent gender-based violences. This awareness building is done in collaboration with religious leaders, who are key players in Senegal for the protection of marginalized people.
To respond to the lack of consideration of the psychosocial impacts that the pandemic would generate on healthcare personnel, women in their majority, the WVL-Senegal project supports the establishment of a unit dedicated to listening to them and offering psychosocial orientation. Medical equipment and food are also made available to them.
The project also supports the establishment, by partner organizations, of a listening and support unit for women and girls victims of violence.
Finally, strategic support is offered to help partner organizations develop and implement advocacy initiatives calling on national and local authorities to include a significant number of women within the COVID-19 crisis management spaces, and to take into account the rights of women and girls and the prevention of violences against them in their response plan.
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The WVL-Senegal project supports women’s organizations and community networks that work to promote the rights and empowerment of women as well as gender equality in Senegal. It receives financial support from the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.