Key decisions women have made in the fight against Covid-19

Saturday May 9 2020

L-R. Dr Monica Musenero, Doris Okudinia, Lt Col

L-R. Dr Monica Musenero, Doris Okudinia, Lt Col Edith Nakalema  

By Gillian Nantume

Women across the country have had to make bold decisions in the last one and a half months since the country had its first confirmed case of Covid-19.
These decisions have had an impact on keeping the family safe at home, to use meagre resources to put a decent meal on the table and keeping their children occupied during the lockdown.
On the national stage, a number of women have stood out for the decisions they have made and the words they have spoken to the powers that be- which have had an impact on the fight against Covid-19 in Uganda.

Doris Okudinia
Nurse, Ediofe Health Centre III
What do you do when a patient – who has waited six hours for an ambulance to fetch him to the regional referral hospital – is languishing on a verandah? Some nurses might look the other way.
Well, not Doris Okudinia. For, it was a matter of life and death. And she chose life by wheeling the patient from Ediofe Health Centre to Arua Regional Referral Hospital, a distance of 5km.
Her actions reveal that the good side of humanity still exists. However, her efforts were rewarded with harassment. Led by the deputy resident district commissioner – who is, incidentally a woman, district officials threatened her, demanding to know her underlying motive. They accused Okudinia of acting unprofessionally.
Fortunately, officials at the Ministry of Health recognised her efforts because this country would have lost a compassionate and dedicated medical worker, hounded out of her work by those who thrive on politics of mediocrity.

Dr Monica Musenero
Consultant epidemiologist, senior presidential advisor on epidemics, member of the National COVID-19 taskforce
She might sit quietly behind the ministers at every presidential address we have had during the lockdown, but during the panic of early March when everyone was running around trying to install sanitisers (or what passed for sanitisers, considering that some were fake) at their work premises, she spoke into our frenzy by listing the myths about coronavirus.
She told us that using soap and water, and avoiding touching our faces was sufficient enough. In those days, when the prices of sanitisers had skyrocketed, it was a welcome relief to know the usual bar of soap was enough.
Even before Uganda registered its first case, Dr Musenero engaged health journalists and explained basic concepts about the pandemic since they would be at the forefront of passing on accurate information to the public to quell the panic. And, this training has helped, because even when the lockdown has been extended for the second time, people understand the challenges we still face as a country.

Ms Amelia Kyambadde, the Minister of Trade.
Ms Amelia Kyambadde, the Minister of Trade.

Amelia Kyambadde
Minister for Trade and Cooperatives
She boldly speaks to power, sometimes daring to navigate waters that others would choose to remain silent about.
Her quest to defend businessmen by asking rather uncomfortable questions during regular presidential addresses on Covid-19, has been reassuring, especially to small and medium income earners, who must work everyday if they must eat.
On several occasions, she has sought for clarification to some of the president’s directives, especially those that directly affect businesses in Uganda.
Of course, there have been a few glitches in her desire to keep trade at the forefront. For example, when she gave a directive that arcades should remain open, only to order them closed, a day later because they would have attracted large crowds.
But, when some soldiers of the Local Defense Unit (LDU) under the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) in Kampala beat up street vendors, after the presidential directive on closing non-essential businesses, Kyambadde boldly asked the security forces not to beat civilians.
Although the LDUs have continued to harass people, especially those caught on the wrong side of the curfew time, in some towns, street vendors are doing brisk businesses, selling fruits and foodstuffs to compliment the market vendors.
It is probably because of Kyambadde, that many boda boda cyclists still have their motorcycles, and are still doing business through deliveries. At some point during the lockdown, many motorcycles had been confiscated by Police when the presidential directives stipulated that they stop operations at 2pm.
No doubt, Kyambadde has business interests at heart and this is probably the reason many of us still leave our homes to walk to the market, instead of spending money on paying for food to be delivered into our homes.

Head, State House Anti-Corruption Unit
Through her no nonsense style of handling presidential directives, we got to know – shockingly – that there are people who are hell-bent on making a profit out of the Covid-19 crisis.
While people lay sick on hospital beds and others bore the pangs of hunger in their homes, waiting for the much promised relief food, others were suspected of not only making a profit from the procurement of the relief food, but also of procuring substandard food.
Others might have procrastinated by instituting a commission of inquiry into the matter but, she chose to act.
So, rather than have a riot of hungry people who have been forced out of work by the presidential directives in order to prevent Covid-19, you sacrifice a few fat cats.
The suspects had been on remand after she had them arrested, but this week, they were released on bail as investigations into the matter continue.


Frontline female health workers
Entebbe Hospital and Mulago Hospital
These women first came to light when Daily Monitor published a photo of a vendor in Busega market, sleeping under a mosquito net, next to her merchandise.
Nothing warms the heart more than a woman who will do anything to fend for her children. For most of these market women, the sum of their business capital is less than Shs500,000, so every coin counts.
A few coins less means there will be challenges in feeding their children, paying school fees, paying for rent and catering for other bills. They cannot risk defying the presidential directives and have their stalls closed.
So, they brave the cold, the heavy pre-dawn rain, the mosquitos, sexual harassment, and cultural taboos that forbid women from sleeping out of their homes to earn a living. Covid-19 has showcased them as true hustlers who can adjust to any crisis in order to earn a living.

Single mothers making ends meet
If you have a good man in your life with whom you share the economic and emotional burden of uncertainty that the lockdown has placed on our shoulders, count yourself lucky.
But, we raise a cheer for the single mothers – especially the low income earners, such as saloon and boutique workers, fruit vendors – who are struggling to cater for their families and dependants in the villages.
These are the true heroes of our generation. When those in the know are talking about stimulus packages to boost the economy or tax holidays for employers, who will boost the pockets of a saloon worker who makes Shs10,000 for every head that she plaits?
Or who will give her back the capital that she has lost during these one-and-a-half months of no work?
But they must shoulder on. These are the women who sit patiently on their doorsteps, waiting for the government to deliver relief food to supplement their efforts at feeding their children.