Ensuring that girls have access to menstrual health and hygiene and that their needs are met is challenging even in normal times in Mozambique, due to gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, poverty and lack of basic services. In emergencies, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges are exacerbated and have to be understood in the broader picture of how the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, including gender-based inequalities.
As of today, in Mozambique there are 352 confirmed cases of COVID-19. From April 1, the country is in “state of emergency”, with schools closed, mobility and meetings limitations, among others. Even though the number of infected persons is still very limited, the impact of the emergency measures adopted to limit the spread of the virus, along with limited capacity of local institutions to function regularly, may disrupt care and support services for women and girls, including the ones at greater risk of vulnerability.
In countries where COVID-19 is already ongoing, reports of domestic violence, violence against women and girls and other forms of domestic violence are on the rise. Given the widespread levels of violence against women in Mozambique, and the restrictive measures in place, it is expected that violence rates will also increase. As existing public services to support survivors of gender-based violence might become unable to deliver, they might feel increasingly isolated and stigmatized, and it is also expected that most cases will remain unreported. Looking more specifically at the impact of emergency measures on girls, Helpcode staff in Mozambique is highlighting two main concerns: that girls from rural areas are sent to live in the cities, with their relatives, to provide for the family while selling items in the street or in the market, or to take care of smaller children as “empregadas”; and that the number of early marriages will increase, as they are often intended as coping strategies for families facing economic hardship.
Providing girls with sanitary pads becomes fundamental in emergency times, as not only has a direct impact on the dignity, health, education, mobility, community involvement, family functioning, and security, but also because they are an entry point for increasing girls’ awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights as a strategy to prevent gender-based violence – thanks to the peer-to-peer training sessions that the Helpcode staff provides.
In times of COVID-19, typical in-kind distribution of dignity kits might not be possible due to either increased movement restriction (and the need to avoid gatherings and unnecessary movement thus ensuring the safety of both personnel involved and beneficiaries) but also due to procurement capacity considered the limited availability of certain items in the international market. However, access to these items should be considered essential in the prevention of infection, especially for women and girls who are more likely to be exposed to infections, given their roles as caregivers and less likely than men to have decision-making power over their own needs, as well as access to means, resources and information.
Supporting this project today means contributing to a wider objective, that is making girls in rural Mozambique more aware with regards to their rights and more capable of making informed decisions over their life.