WHEN Covid-19 was ravaging some parts of Asia and Europe, it became inevitable that there was a possibility that it would come knocking on Tanzania’s door any time.
And on March 16th this year, that dreadful day arrived, when Tanzania announced the first case of a Covid-19 patient. It came as a shock, to say the least, which somehow shook the government and other institutions, including formal and informal sectors.
Although it is several months now since the government announced that Tanzania is free from the pandemic and its effects, and that people should go about their businesses as usual, the disease taught most of us a lot of valuable lessons.
It is an open secret that most women in the country are working in the informal sectors; therefore it does not require a rocket scientist to know that they were highly affected by the presence of the pandemic.
“Apart from the informal sector, women in health, economic and social sectors were also drastically affected during the pandemic,” says Mariam Yassin, the Chairperson of Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative (EASSI) for the Advancement of Women.
She says that there is a lot that has been witnessed on the social-economic impact during the pandemic, saying that most women closed their businesses due to the restrictions issued during the Covid- 19 period. However, she is optimistic that in one way or another, the pandemic has left a major lesson, which has also highlighted the need for solidarity and collaboration among women working in informal sectors.
She says that most regions in the country need to invest in women economic empowerment because nobody knows what will happen in the near future.
During a Zoom meeting highlighting the impact of Covid- 19 in the informal sectors, Mr Robert Okoth from the Kenya High Commission in Tanzania said apart from the fact that we may be forced to live with Coronavirus, people need to identify new opportunities.
“Trade has indeed suffered, meanwhile statistics have proved that many women have been engaged in the informal sector,” he said during the meeting, and added that it is advisable to find out if women working in the informal sector have survived the pandemic.
He said that a region, East Africa needs to find out how people working in the informal sectors survived, and at the same time create policies on how to sustain the type of the business they operate.
He insists that East African regions must ask themselves three main questions, first, where are women working in informal sectors? What are they doing now? And which type of capacity building they need.
“I insist that stakeholder need to engage the government on how we can solve the puzzle in the informal sectors,” Okoth says.
On her part, Rose Reuben, the Tanzania Media Women Executive Director, who is also the Deputy Chairperson of EASSI says women should be ready when pandemics hit, because they cannot be forecasted. “The lesson we take from the past pandemic in Tanzania is that we need to create an environment that even when the pandemic hits, we should still have means to sustain our businesses,” she says.
Ms Reuben says that women working in the informal sectors must have a plan B which will help them to look for another type of business and savings in case something happens.
However, she adds that women also need to know that there were plenty of opportunities during the recent Covid-19 pandemic, which included digital marketing, saying that always creativity should be the key.
On the other hand, Pius Odunga from Kirinyaga University in Kenya says there is a huge lesson to learn from Covid-19 impact on women working in the tourism sector in the East African region.
He says that according to statistics obtained from their university, 54 per cent of women in East Africa are employed in the tourism sector, while 69 per cent of people employed in the tourism industry in Africa are women, where statistics indicate that the regions have seen a 60 per cent drop in tourism arrivals in East Africa by mid-2020.
The tourism sector, he says, suffered greatly globally due to the pandemic, where travel restrictions were imposed and activities in major national parks ceased, forcing major hotels to shut down. He recommends that there is a need for marketing support amid pandemics and taking innovative measures to counter the effects of the current and future pandemics.
“We recommend business re-modeling to cope with pandemics or any kind of disaster, and to conduct thorough research and measurements to come up with better policies,” he says. On her part, Dr Elizabeth Akinyi from the University of Nairobi also in Kenya said during the meeting that Covid- 19 had a lot of impact on women in agricultural sectors, especially on floriculture and horticulture.
“Women are food growers and producers, and they represent about 60 to70 per cent of the labour force,” she explained. During the tough period of the pandemic, she says women working in this sector were highly affected due to the rising cost of farm inputs.
“Apart from this, women were also highly affected by social isolation and Gender Based Violence,” she says, but adds that the impact of Covid-19 made women obtain new ways of doing business, which included being involved in things like digital marketing.
Echoing the same sentiments, Dr Julieth Wakaisuka from Makerere University Business School on her part outlines the impact of Covid- 19 on women working in trade and small medium enterprises, saying in East Africa; women contribute over 70 per cent of the agriculture labour force, or over 75 per cent of food production.
“Women usually earn less, save less, and hold less secure jobs, which makes them more likely to be employed in small enterprises or in the informal sector,” she says.