Rwanda remains under a two-week quarantine and conditions will be assessed again around April 1st for the government to determine if it needs to be extended. There are 41 cases in Rwanda, the highest recent increase in the East African Community (EAC), and just over 1000 across the continent. For now, the concern is keeping people at home and increasing Rwandan health capacity. Rwanda is reported to only have 69 ICUs with respirators and limited tests. Jack Ma recently donated 20,000 tests, along with gloves and masks, to Rwanda and all 54 African countries. The Rwanda Ministry of Health has been very active on social media, reminding people of the crisis at hand. African celebrities are also speaking out, e.g. Ugandan musician, Bobi Wine.
To keep Rwandans at home, public transportation is banned. The Ministry of Health said, “Heightened vigilance continued to be required. The enhanced prevention measures announced by the Government of Rwanda must be rigorously observed: non-essential businesses are closed, travel between cities and districts is suspended, and non-essential movements outside the home are not permitted”. Police are strictly enforcing this. When a friend tried yesterday to deliver dog food to an animal sanctuary in Nyamata, an hour south of Kigali, he was turned away riding alone on his motorcycle wearing a mask and gloves. Motorcycle taxi drivers had initially removed the plastic shields from their passenger helmets, but now passengers are not permitted and the only motorcycles on the road are delivering goods.
My concern in the coming weeks is the cleavages in economic inequality that will deepen as the poor run out of food. They didn’t have the income to stock up on food before the quarantine began and they live without the refrigeration to have non-perishables fresh anyway. Millions of children across Africa have either reduced their calorie intake or are eating rice and yams exclusively as their parents stay at home considering their options.
The impacts of this quarantine on the poor will be far-reaching. Many have used up scant savings to get by in this time, now more vulnerable to financial shocks than before. Children’s health will be more fragile if their malnutrition is much extended, making them more vulnerable to health issues in the future. “Quarantine learning loss” (my term, related to summer learning loss) will have graver effects on poor children without books at home and education-oriented parents to home school them. Their more impoverished parents may be less able to pay their later school fees too.
I am particularly concerned about women’s gendered well-being during the pandemic, and I am not alone. Helen Lewis published an incisive article on how “The Coronavirus is a Disaster for Feminism“. The author points out that the most striking statistic from Sierra Leone, one of the countries worst affected by Ebola, was that from 2013 to 2016, during the outbreak, more women died of obstetric complications than the infectious disease itself. Other sources point out the foreseen increase in domestic violence. Lewis writes:
“In both rich and poor countries, campaigners expect domestic-violence rates to rise during lockdown periods. Stress, alcohol consumption, and financial difficulties are all considered triggers for violence in the home, and the quarantine measures being imposed around the world will increase all three. The British charity Women’s Aid said in a statement that it was “concerned that social distancing and self-isolation will be used as a tool of coercive and controlling behaviour by perpetrators, and will shut down routes to safety and support.”
Pandemics override the health needs of women.
She also pointed out research indicating that men’s income will rebound faster than that of women—and that women will bear a disproportionate weight for the increased caretaking that quarantines require. With schools and daycare closed, that added childcare burden will be picked up by women more than men. Studies have shown that when new parents take parental leave after the birth of a child, men are more likely to use that time off to engage in professionally productive activities that benefit their careers while women actually engage in full-time childcare. Lewis’s article references white-collar, dual-income couples in the West, but this also applies to African women too. Sick family members, including those with coronavirus, will likely be taken care of by female relations and not male ones. Women spend such an inequitable amount of time care for others as it is, and the quarantine will only exacerbate this, and this is time that cuts into their income earning potential.