COVID-19 and Indigenous Women in East Africa

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Emerging Impacts, Responses and Opportunities

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Chimaraoke Izugbara, Emily Schaub, Anam Bhatti, Heather Marlow, Elizabeth Anderson and Laura Hinson

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, calls have been made for continuing analyses of its impacts on and dynamics among the world’s most vulnerable groups and peoples. Indigenous peoples have been recognized as one of the groups at heightened risk for COVID-19 and its many adverse socio-economic and other impacts.

This brief summarizes emerging evidence on the impact, responses and opportunities related to COVID-19 among Indigenous people in East Africa. As the virus continues to spread in the region, there are major socioeconomic implications. Indigenous peoples, who live in 35 countries in Africa, often depend on access and rights to their traditional lands and the natural resources that such lands hold. Many of them live in hard-to-reach, geographically isolated areas and experience political and social neglect. And although their livelihoods diverge, East Africa’s Indigenous peoples are united by a shared history of vulnerability, marginalization, land tenure insecurity, poverty and inadequate political representation.

Women and girls comprise about half of the population of East Africa’s Indigenous peoples. Women play critical roles in tourism, agriculture, health and environmental and biodiversity conservation; are key to food and livelihood security; and possess vital knowledge of sustainable forest, livestock and ecosystems practices. But they are also particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of discrimination, violence, sexual abuse and mistreatment both within and outside their own communities.

This legacy of vulnerability and exclusion heightens the susceptibility of Indigenous women to the impacts of COVID-19. While pre-existing multiple vulnerabilities shape East Africa’s Indigenous women’s ability to cope with COVID-19, the pandemic is also exacerbating threats to their wellbeing. Urgent action is needed to address the vulnerabilities that expand COVID-19 risks, tackle the emerging impacts of COVID, and ensure that Indigenous populations are not excluded from existing and future COVID-19-related investments and responses.

Read more to find out what we recommend to counter the compounding impacts of the pandemic.

Publication Rights:

Izugbara, C., Schaub, E., Bhatti, A., Marlow, H., Anderson, E. & Hinson, L. (2020). COVID-19 and Indigenous Women in East Africa: Emerging Impacts, Responses and Opportunities. Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women.

This brief was developed through the generous support of the Danish International Development Agency.