#YouthDay: Covid-19 complicates young women’s lives

Young women cannot afford to get their birth control shots or pills from a local clinic because they fear judgement from community members. (File photo).

Young people make up a third of South Africa’s population, according to Statistics South Africa. As the country commemorates Youth day and month, Health-e News spoke to the oversight body on gender issuesthe Commission for Gender Equality, on the observations they have made about the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) on young people’s lives. 

Gauteng’s provincial public information and education officer Koketso Sekhu spoke to Health-e News about the commission’s findings. 

 LGBTIQ youth facing queerphobia at home

According to Sekhu, the commission has received grievances from young university students who have had to return home because of the lockdown, saying they are unable to be themselves because of homophobia and transphobia in their homes and communities. 

She adds that trans and gender nonconforming people are also facing the trauma of being misgendered because of the fear of discrimination. 

“Now they have to wear another kind of in an identity of which it becomes frustrating mentally. They are also saying that even when they have come out, it’s not easy, because they find that even their parents, mother or siblings don’t support them or maybe the family support is split where your mother supports you and your father doesn’t,” Sekhu explains. 

According to a 2016 survey by The Other Foundation and the Human Science Research Council on attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity in South Africa, just over half the population believe that gay and lesbian people have the same human rights as all South Africans but only 27% reported to having a friend or family member who is homosexual. 

 Access to reproductive health services 

Sekhu says that the closure of universities has been a barrier in young students accessing their contraceptives as clinics in their homes may be a taxi ride away that they cannot afford or they fear to get their birth control shots or pills from a local clinic because they fear judgement from community members. 

 The country’s latest health review found that young women to do like going to primary healthcare facilities in their neighbourhoods because of not being able to relate to the nurses or being judged by the nurse who may know their parents. 

 Sekhu also adds that in some instances, young women have moved in with their partners during the lockdown period and have found themselves in situations where they have run out of condoms and can’t easily access them as they did on campus.
“We may see a rise in unwanted pregnancies because of the lack of access of contraceptives and condoms,” she says. 

 Loss of income  

 The commission has heard from young women who say that their businesses have taken a knock. Those who are employed have either been retrenched or fear to losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic,” Sekhu says. 

“Many young women are discouraged by lockdown because its either they are breadwinners, graduates or job seekers. Others are being retrenched because last one in, first one out policy,” she explains. 

According to Statistics South Africa, almost 30% of the population is unemployed. The impact of Covid-19 in the labour market will be released on 23 June, the organisation states. 

Sekhu says that the loss of income has pushed many young women back into the arms of their abusers, in order for survival. 

Increase in GBV cases 

As many women find themselves without a livelihood or are forced to stay at home because of lockdown regulations, many have not been able to access victim empowerment programmes for help and centres too are struggling to get hold of women. During the first week of lockdown in South Africa,  2 300 cases of gender-based violence were laid with the police. 

 Sekhu explains that centres that have been helping women are struggling to reach women who need help.  

 “It’s difficult for a lot of victim empowerment centres to actually effectively run between victim programmes that will, in turn, make the victim a survivor. For example, victims of domestic violence or sexual assault have to first go through the testing process of Covid-19 before they can access help and that adds to their trauma,” she explains. 

“We need to find to balance Covid-19 and victim empowerment programmes during this time.”- Health-e News 


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