Vulnerable bear brunt of Covid-19

Sunday May 03 2020

Women and girls with disabilities cannot access sanitary items to be used during menstruation, since even for the support some get is centered only on food. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA


As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, coming up with measures such as stay and work from home, lockdowns and curfews, there is a growing concern that women and girls as well as minority groups, including people with disabilities are facing the worst of it.

“It is in such challenging times that many girls and women encounter rights violations and discrimination.

It is therefore paramount that as we join hands with other actors in responding to the pandemic, we work together in making sure that essential services for children, especially girls, young people and women are always available,” said William R. Mutero, country director of, Plan International Rwanda in a statement. Mr Mutero argued that Covid-19 will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable as it continues to spread around the world. “We also advocate for national and local authorities to ensure that planning and decision-making processes related to the response to COVID-19 strengthen the leadership and meaningful participation of girls and young women to ensure that their perspectives are heard, and needs are met.”

Minority groups such as people with disabilities (PWDs) and sexual minorities are facing the brunt of the Covid19 pandemic, as many cannot access health services, while others are even more susceptible to contract and spread the virus due to their pre-existing limitations.

People for instance with visual, hearing and mental disabilities, are not able to access TV, radio or SMS messages from the Ministry of Health about the precautions to take in order to protect themselves from contracting the virus.

“Many of them don’t have any information about Covid-19, majority only know that they are supposed to stay at home, nothing more, they don’t know about the self-protective precautions” said Gaudance Mushimimana, executive director of Rwanda Organisation of Women with disabilities. She said the situation is even worse for women with disabilities living in rural areas, because the pandemic threatens their safety and security.


“Cases of sexual assault for women with disabilities have increased, many of those who live alone are in untold fear, activity outside or people’s movements used to be a source of security for them, attackers used to be afraid of that but now no one is moving, this has increased their insecurity” she said. Hakizimana Jean Baptist lives with avoidant personality disorder, a condition which manifests itself in feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy and very low self-esteem.

"I have always been taken advantage of by people, but when it came to this time it became worse, for instance I have tenants but they have not paid me for months now, and my condition affects me in a sense that I coil back and don't do anything about," he said.


Many PWDs and sexual minorities, like HIV positive sex workers and members of LGBT cannot access vital health services and drugs like Anti-retroviral drugs due to impact of Covi-19. For instance, people with mental disabilities who used to routinely get medicine from Ndera hospital are unable to access the drugs due to the current suspension of public transport means, although some organisations are trying to help, it is harder for those living in isolation.

 “Then there is the problem of poverty, many PWDs are living in abject poverty, many of them depended on handouts from family members, and kind neighbours but because people are not working, they are unable to get tis support.”

“Even those who would give them something can’t find a way of reaching it to them since there is no access, yet you can’t even send mobile money to some since many don’t have phones,” she said. Women and girls with disabilities cannot access sanitary items because the support some get is centered only on food.

In an interview with Rwanda Today, head of Human Rights First Rwanda Association Nzovu Job said the pandemic has caused disproportionate impact across various segments of the society, including persons with disabilities and sexual minorities.