Shelter women from anti-pandemic measures

President Uhuru Kenyatta hands Kiambu Women Enterprise Fund members a dummy cheque of Ksh83.2 million during a function at Ndumberi stadium, in Kiambu, on December 5, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The government should provide a detailed plan for ensuring that women do not end up suffering double vulnerability in the form of inability to repay debts and loss of livelihoods.
  • It should take into account women’s unique role in the microenterprise sector, more so the informal economy.

Disasters, man-made or natural, generally tend to have a disproportionate impact on women and girls — particularly so with regard to their social and economic roles.

Covid-19 has, however, added another dimension to the gender inequality. Unlike before, when response was tailored to address situations of peril and want, with the coronavirus pandemic, efforts to safeguard lives are likely to push more women into poverty and vulnerability.

The government, and with good intention, is taking measures to curb the spread of infection. But these are likely to hurt players in the informal economy, particularly women.

For historical reasons, women tend to be the majority in the low-skill jobs in the informal sector, such as open-air markets, from where most people get food. The closure of these facilities has, therefore, disadvantaged mainly women.

Besides, the advisory to use mobile money in transactions, which has never favoured women-led microenterprises anyway, has hurt these outfits. These businesses are cash-dependent for several reasons.

Traditionally, women have had higher saving rates than men. But due to gender biases in formal financial markets, most women’s savings are held as cash or in non-cash assets or deposits in the informal financial sector. Despite these savings, women were hitherto locked out of credit facilities.

RECOVERY STRATEGY

It is only recently that an array of approaches to financial savings and credit have emerged to bank the women.

The poverty lending approach has emerged as a preferred approach that targets women. This has generally involved individuals creating groups that regularly save, then take out small loans.

This model went a step further when the government created affirmative action funds — like the Uwezo Fund, National Government Affirmative Action Fund (Ngaaf) and Women Enterprise Fund (WEF).

Women’s inability to earn during the partial lockdown is likely, therefore, to hinder them from servicing their micro loans granted by these funds, in some cases leading to default.

In the circumstances, the underwriter of these loans, the government, should provide a detailed plan for ensuring that women — and, indeed, all vulnerable groups — do not end up suffering double vulnerability in the form of inability to repay debts and loss of livelihoods.

But the government is yet to give a position on this matter. By now, a broad moratorium would have been given on repayment of such loans.

Additionally, a post-Covid-19 recovery strategy for beneficiaries of these funds should be under discussion.

AVAILABLE OPTIONS

Based on an assumptions of a 6-18-month economic recovery period, the government should consider various options for rescuing these groups.

One quick option would be to write off loans to groups that are not financially sound. Another would be to consolidate and convert loans of groups with sound fiducial management to equity and then use them as vehicles for deepening affirmative action and mentorship.

Therefore, as the government ponders a post-Covid-19 recovery plan, it should take into account women’s unique role in the microenterprise sector, more so the informal economy.

Ms Komba, gender, governance and development specialist, is a board member of Pastoralist Child Foundation-Samburu. [email protected]

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