The Risk of COVID-19 to Girls and Women in Lesotho

May 22, 2020

Lesotho’s lockdown was lifted at the beginning of May. The border between South Africa and Lesotho remains closed, yet, hundreds took the chance to cross illegally back into the country. One week later, Lesotho reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

Despite the endless news on the devastation coronavirus is causing throughout the world, there is not enough emphasis on the impact COVID-19 will have on girls and women, particularly in a developing country like Lesotho.

As is common around the world, girls and women in Lesotho carry the brunt of housework, including the role of caregiving for children, the ill and the elderly. Their role as caregivers puts them at an increased risk of developing infectious diseases like COVID-19. As a result of this pandemic, these girls and women toil endlessly under the burdens of caregiving under the loss of income, food insecurity and isolation from the support structures that typically enable them to cope with their challenges.

Lesotho remains under strict physical-distancing measures. With families continuing to spend long periods of time together in their very small homes, girls and women are at an increased risk of gender-based violence. In Lesotho, before the additional anxiety caused by COVID-19, 86% of girls reported having been abused. As we know well, financial and emotional stress so often manifests in violent outbursts towards girls and women who have little support in normal times, let alone when home-bound while social and protective systems are not operating at full capacity.

Lesotho’s hospitals and care facilities lack significant resources and staff, making them ill-equipped to handle a pandemic like COVID-19, with Lesotho’s quarantine facilities comprised of just 148 beds. Furthermore, women in developing countries often experience a lack of access to critical health information as a result of their their socioeconomic status As noted in a report by the The World Health Organization:

“Social, cultural, financial and legal barriers and structural gender inequalities create critical challenges for meeting women’s health needs… In many settings women have limited autonomy and decision-making power, even over their health care needs – and limited time to seek services because of their caring responsibilities.”

With extremely high rates of pre-existing health conditions like HIV/AIDS (24%) and Tuberculosis (695 cases/100,000), COVID-19 would be extremely damaging to many Basotho people who already struggle with compromised immune systems. For women a pandemic poses a grave risk. They are inherently more susceptible to contracting HIV for reasons related indirectly and directly to their gender. According to the World Population Review, around half of the women in Lesotho under the age of 40 have HIV in urban areas, coupled with low socioeconomic status and lack of decision making power over their sexual and reproductive health.  

Many Basotho women previously supported their families through small-business income such as selling vegetables on the street, child-minding or domestic service. With a loss of income due to COVID-19 prevention measures, these women may be forced to look for work elsewhere, potentially taking risks that will compromise their wellbeing and safety. The expected desperation felt by girls and women needing to feed their families may contribute to a rise in sex work, human trafficking, and other dangerous activities.

If you are in Lesotho and need help due to gender-based violence, please call this toll free number: 80066666