By Wazeh Nicoline Nwenushi |March 31, 2020
The highest socio-economic bearing of the corona virus on sub-Saharan Africa households is inevitably the interruption of remittances. Like any other disaster, women and children particularly the girl child shoulder the burden of this interruption. Remittance is money transferred by Africans in the diaspora to families back home for their primary and basic needs, livelihood, education, health subsistence and general living standard improvement. This money does not only constitute a source of sustainable livelihood to many Sub-Saharan African families but also an important and stable source of development finance in the region. Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa households flow in from foreign countries including the USA, Canada, china, UK, Italy, Germany, UAE, Japan and other countries.
According to the World Bank (2019), remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa and other low- and middle-income recipient countries surpass Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and have steadily increased from ($ billions) 32 in 2010, 38 in 2016, 42 in 2017, 47 in 2018 and 49 in 2019. The same report projected a steady increase of 51 and 54 $ billions in remittances to the sub region in 2020 and 2021 respectively but alas this forecast has been nullified by the prevailing global situation which is epitomized by the COVID-19 pandemic and lock down on the world as part of preventive measures recommended by the W.H.O. to contain this killer virus. The above data attests that, the contribution of remittance to the Gross National Income (GNI) of recipient countries, alleviation of difficulties by households in smoothing consumption, access to start ups capitals and their multiplier effects cannot be over emphasized. Hence, the extended confinements, lock down of businesses and other measures prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Diseases Control (CDC) to contain the global corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic,
which have led to the loss of income by migrants providing such remittances has huge consequences on recipient households especially women and girls.
Financial flows from remittances, there is no gainsaying help underprivileged and marginalized vulnerable communities and groups particularly women, girls, the disabled, the marginalized and the elderly to live better and decent lives. These new and decent lifestyles typified by improved daily consumption, access to health care, water and sanitation, acquisition of property especially landed property and investment in micro-enterprises contribute not only to the well-being of the individual recipient household but also accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), other development initiatives and, increase in national growth.
Remittances have triggered the achievement of SDG 1 through the eradication of abject poverty to a proportion of recipient households including men, women, children and people with disabilities. This has led inter alia to the provision of individual household social protection measures to poor and vulnerable families especially women and girls where government has failed. This has equally led to access to basic economic resources including land ownership and control, financial services and inheritance, by women particularly, and other poor and vulnerable groups and help build their resilience and reduce their vulnerabilities to extreme shocks and disasters. This unavoidably dilutes the feminization of poverty and gender discrimination of property ownership, access to finances and entrepreneurship to a certain extent.
Also, remittances have reduced the exposure of beneficiary poor and vulnerable families particularly, women, children especially the girl child, people with disabilities and the elderly to food and nutrition insufficiency which is a milestone in the achievement of SDG 2 on food security, improved nutrition and promotion of sustainable agriculture. The financial assistance from remittances not only enable such households to afford for their daily consumption but also buy farmland for agricultural production and food sustainability. Hitherto vulnerable women and girls exposed to prostitution for survival, forced and early marriages because of hunger, persistence in abusive marriages and relationships and other gender-based
violence have been rescued by remittances to the advantage of gender equality, decent living conditions and general well-being of women and children particularly the girl child.
Through remittances, some poor and vulnerable households have been able to ensure healthy lives and well-being for families especially women, children particularly the girl child, disabled and elderly. This has been manifested in preventable maternal and Neo-natal mortality, sustaining family members with diseases like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Diabetes, Hepatitis, malaria and others. Giving birth to children in hospitals by these poor and vulnerable families also means vaccinating such children against preventable diseases like poliomyelitis, stunting, malnutrition and their impacts on the families and society at large. This has also improved access to sexual and reproductive health-care-services especially for women and girls in consonance with SDG 3. Providing health facilities and promoting healthy lifestyles for the remittance beneficiary households can mean a reduction in unpaid care work which is generally the responsibility of women.
Increase in school enrollment and the number of years in school for some children from poor and vulnerable households especially for the girl child has been greatly improved through remittances. This has led to effective learning outcomes for both girls and boys, reduction in gender disparities in education, acquisition of vocational and technical skills by both girls and boys which expose both to decent jobs and entrepreneurship among others, thereby accelerating the achievement of SDG 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Education and acquisition of skills by the girl child is a development multiplier and can mean being able to make live choices including decisions on family planning, asserting her sexual and reproductive health and rights; and withstanding and fighting harmful practices and all forms gender discrimination and domestic violence.
Women have been empowered by remittances to buy, own and control landed property in their names. Children who migrate out of the country have strive to buy lands and provide decent housing for their families back at home especially their mothers. This is particularly true of mothers who have single handedly parented their children or lived in abusive relationships to the dislike of their
children who cannot wait to be able to change their lives once they can. Such women have reduced the risk of discriminatory property ownership. Also, being economically empowered which is a precursor for financial independence had led to women being able to fight against gender-based violence (GBV), withstand harmful practices against women and girls such as child early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation, widow inheritance, forced prostitution, forced migration of widows due to property deprivation and others. This can also lead to the effective and equal participation of women in many public spaces where decisions concerning the nation and their life choices is taken. Although appointments and elections in most countries are yet to reflect these milestones, countries within the sub-Region like Rwanda and Ethiopia have proven that women’s effective participation in decision making at all levels can accelerate national development and the achievement of SDG 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Fetching water over long distances is known to be one of the woman’s energy and time most consuming activity. Women are known to trek over long distances to fetch water from streams and spring of very doubtful sources and quality where hazardous chemicals and material are dumped for their household consumption and cleaning. Water and sanitation intersect with difficulties faced by women who live in slums and expose them to water borne and other related illnesses. Women are also exposed to sexual assault and rape by perverse men who monitor when these women and girls go to fetch water and abuse them. Through remittances, some women have graduated from these lifestyles, bought portions of land in healthy environments, built decent houses and live decent and healthy lives using well, borehole or conventional tap water, thereby reducing the risk and consequences of living in slums such as exposure to waterborne diseases, contagion, open defecation and others. These improved water and sanitation lifestyles render life easier for family members with disabilities and can also accelerate the achievement of SDG 6 on ensuring the availability and sustainable water and sanitation management for all.
To achieve the 2030 agenda, goal 8 requires states to amid other things promote sustained, inclusive productive and decent work for all citizens, to ensure full and sustainable economic growth.
Remittances to individual Sub-Saharan African households are a huge source of welfare and standard of living improvement. Through remittances, recipient households have been able to invest in micro-enterprises, environmental protection, contribute to their country GDP and improve national per capita. Thus, the global lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it consequential disruption of remittances can mean a lot to the recipient families including but not limited to, a decline in living standards, a decrease in labor productivity and unemployment; a deceleration in growth rates and moving farther from the 7% growth rate target for 2030. The remittance disruption economic and social impact of the global corona virus will inevitably have exponential effects on recipient households with women and children particularly the girl child worst hit.
We therefore entreat the United Nations, the Word Bank, G 20 member, African Union, African Development Bank national governments, all stakeholders and development partners to use a gender perspective, (both during and after), in devising COVID-19 response initiatives for the Sub-Saharan African countries.