On March 31st, the Ugandan government announced a nationwide lockdown and curfew to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Clare Tusingwire, Girl Up Initiative Uganda’s Programme Director, has continued to support our communities during this difficult period.
Read our interview with Clare to learn about the impact of the lockdown on the lives of women and girls, and what Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) is doing to help.
1. What is daily life like in your community during the lockdown?
COVID-19 has made the lives of many living in Kampala extremely difficult, particularly in the deprived slum areas where GUIU works. While the government is distributing food to the most vulnerable families, not everyone is receiving the handouts.
Families are improvising every day because they do not have enough savings to sustain them. In the very poorest households, people are eating porridge made of cassava flour mixed with water and salt. For many, this is the cheapest starch available.
2. Do you have any individual stories to share?
One story that particularly struck me was from a mother I counselled. She told me that she was feeling despondent because she used to be able to work to provide for her children. Now, she is struggling to provide a daily meal for them because her income stream has dried up. She told me that she lets her children rest and read their school books while she completes the heavy household chores. She hopes this will reduce the children’s hunger as they wait for their next meal. When she later received one of our relief packages, she was so excited.
3. What is the specific impact of COVID- 19 on girls and women in Uganda, particularly those living in urban slum communities?
Girls’ education has been significantly disrupted since the closure of schools. This is further exacerbated by increasing incidences of GBV as men are under more mental and economic stress.
As we know from other crises, girls and women are the most vulnerable.
As the incidence of GBV increases, there is a risk that some girls might never get the opportunity to return to school to complete their education. Parents usually save for fees over time, and there is likely to be a shortfall of money since livelihoods have been disrupted due to COVID-19.
4. Can you describe Girl Up Initiative Uganda’s response to COVID-19?
GUIU is reaching out to the girls and the families we support through our Survive & Thrive Fund. Two weeks ago, we started distribution of ‘family relief packages’ for the families of the at-risk girls we work with to enable them to survive. These packages contain food, soap, and sanitary pads to help families stay healthy and fed. We have already served 550 families, and aim to reach a total of 1,500 families.
Distributing the packages has also been critical as it give us the opportunity to check-in on and counsel the girls enrolled in our programmes in person. We are also sharing information about a 24/7 tollfree number (0800200600) where people can report cases of abuse or ask questions about COVID-19.
5. What do you think the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis will be on the rights of women and girls?
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, girls and women face the risk of backsliding and regression in terms of achieving gender equality and women’s rights.
The longer the lockdown continues, the more girls and women will lose their freedom to speak out. Girls will be unable to access safe spaces and programmes, such as our Adolescent Girls Programme.
More girls will be at risk of early pregnancy. They will also be more vulnerable to abuse from older men who offer to provide pads, food, and school fees in exchange for sex (‘sugar daddies’).
6. Do you have any advice for those who are currently experiencing lockdown?
We must tirelessly continue to raise awareness of COVID-19 by reminding our programme participants and our own communities to keep safe, keep healthy, and wash your hands.
As my team emphasised in our recent Ray of Hope podcast episode, we must balance our fears of COVID- 19 with positivity. Listening to the news can increase anxieties, so we need to be reminded that life will get better. There will be life after COVID-19.