COVID19 doesn’t cause teen pregnancies. It’s structural violence.

Since the start of the pandemic Malawi has seen a spike in teen pregnancies, but blaming this on COVID19 is refusing to see the real issues, says Daisy Mpando.

“Schools need to be opened up soon so that teen pregnancies can be reduced!”

I overheard a woman on the minibus to work the other day say this to the man next to her. He agreed, so did the bus driver and a few other passengers who got drawn into the conversation. You would have to be in denial to ignore the correlation between schools shutting down and the increase in teen pregnancies but is there a bigger problem that we are missing out on?

The reason that children are getting pregnant is not that they are out of school. It is because of social and cultural structures. Districts such as Mangochi and Phalombe, in Malawi, had some of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa before COVID19 hit (Voice of America, 2020). The same applies to the increase in gender-based violence (GBV). The rise in GBV cases is not because of COVID19. Before the pandemic, there were still alarming rates of GBV, likewise with teen pregnancies.  

Voice of America: Early marriage spike in Malawi.

Did COVID19 make girls vulnerable?

What COVID19 has done is expose the already existing ‘structural violence.’ Structural violence is a term coined by Johan Galtung that is used to describe instances in which social structures cause harm directly or indirectly by putting certain groups of individuals at a disadvantage. 

Structural violence is present everywhere; in the workplace, in schools, and in communities. The sooner we realise that, the more effective our interventions will be. We need to deal with the culture that is embedded in society that makes men and women alike think that a 14-year-old is ready for marriage and ready to be a parent. We must work on changing mindsets if we wish to protect children. We cannot simply use schools to shelter children from their abusers. What happens when they go home? What happens when they are stuck at home for 4 months because of a pandemic? We all know the answer to that. 

Social problems won’t dissolve when lockdown ends.

It seems to me that we have taken the approach of looking at the social problems around us during this time as a result of the pandemic. We cannot afford to keep doing this, we need to step back and get to the root of the problem. The impacts of COVID-19 are vast however a closer look at these impacts will show that these were problems in our society long before the pandemic. 

What COVID19 has done is to exacerbate already existing weaknesses in social structures. It is important therefore that even as we respond to the impacts of COVID19, we go deeper than responding to the challenges it brings and also address the structures that made certain groups so vulnerable. Our interventions must be more proactive than reactive. So when you’re talking with people on the bus to work, be honest about the route we need to take. 

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

Daisy Mpando

Daisy Mpando

Daisy Mpando is a passionate 23 years old Social Worker at Medecins San Frontieres. Currently, she volunteers at UKANI, a youth led organisation that empowers women. During her free time she enjoys reading and writing.

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COVID19 doesn’t cause teen pregnancies. It’s structural violence.

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