Banner from partner Bright Life (Nepal)
IfE’s PANDEMIC RESPONSE (2020)
In early 2020, Initiative for Equality (IfE) conducted a global consultation across our large network, and developed a “Pandemic Response Statement” on issues to consider when responding to the pandemic. The results of this crowd-sourced consultation can be seen here: https://www.initiativeforequality.org/pandemic-response-must-build-equality-solidarity/
Based on this document, several of our partners were able to convince governments to adopt a more equitable response to the pandemic: In Kenya, one of our partner organizations – Hequeendo Compassionate Friends – was able to convince the Bungoma Chapter of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry to launch an effort to advocate for the principles of protecting the poorest people as explained in the IfE Pandemic Response document. In Nigeria, another member of our network – the National NGOs Alliance for Covid-19 Pandemic Response – submitted a request based on IfE’s Pandemic Response to Nigeria’s President, Senate, House of Representatives, all state Governors, and the Presidential Task Force on Covid -19 Pandemic.
IFE’S FIRST PROJECT (2020)
IfE then followed up with a project in 15 Sub-Saharan African and Brazilian communities in 2020, also funded by the Balaton Group. The 15 organizations that were chosen to implement the project provided basic information and training on how to respond to the pandemic. We reached some 1500 people, mostly extremely poor and without formal education. Services provided included masks, hand sanitizers and soaps, hand washing stations, food for those who were prevented from working, and above all, training in what the pandemic was and how to mitigate its impacts. For most of the people we reached, this was literally their only exposure to accurate information about the pandemic at that time. You can read about this project and see lots of great photos and a video here: https://www.initiativeforequality.org/ife-pandemic-response-projects-help-poor-communities-across-africa-brazil/
But we recognized that we had a very hard time providing information specific to women, because of a lack of women-led organizations among the small NGOs we work with.
OBJECTIVES OF IFE’S SECOND PROJECT (2021-22)
Our intention for the follow-up project, entitled Empowering Women with Equitable and Sustainable Responses to the Pandemic, was to build the capacity of women-led groups who are part of the IfE network to respond effectively to both urgent and longer-term needs of very poor communities during the pandemic, and particularly to the needs of women.
Our first project had already gathered a subset of best practices that are applicable and helpful in mitigating impacts of the COVID-19 virus in the poorest communities in the world, including urban slums and remote indigenous communities. In this follow-up project, eight women-led organizations in Asia (Nepal and Pakistan) and Africa (Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo) were identified. They then received micro-grants to support their work on COVID-19 public education and advocacy, based on the materials from our Pandemic Response Statement and our first project. The eight participating organizations gathered information from women in their local communities, and brought it into a global discussion on advocacy needed to address women’s needs and rights during the pandemic. We also helped build capacity in these women’s groups, as well as collaborative working relationships among groups in our network.
Specific steps used to accomplish the above were as follows:
- Each partner was asked to submit a proposal telling what they would do to learn the main problems women were experiencing due to the pandemic, and to provide helpful advocacy for women in their communities.
- We collaborated to design a survey form to use with women in the communities.
- Partners conducted the surveys and submitted their results, which were shared so we could all know what the main problems were that we needed to address.
- Partners worked in the communities to provide accurate information and training to the women on covid spread and avoidance, and on how to respond to the problems affecting women that were being reported.
- Finally, partners were asked to develop a long-term advocacy plan to empower women to see their needs met (as related to the pandemic response).
The responses to the initial Questionnaire are provided below in Table 1, showing result totals for the 8 partners located in Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan and DRC. The names of partners and communities are not linked to these results for reasons of privacy and security.
Table 1. Results of Surveys among Women in the Communities
Detailed community-by-community results (not shown) indicated that there was substantial variability between the different communities, with women in the Asian communities less likely to report abuse and violence or unwanted pregnancies than those in African countries.
Here are additional comments sent in by 4 partners, in the countries named. Again, the partners and communities are not named to protect the privacy of the women in the communities and the security of our partners.
Comments from women interviewed, and observations by partners
Partner 1. Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Lack of appropriate information on the spread of this pandemic, the closure of borders so that they couldn’t continue to carry out their commercial activities, activities related to agriculture (field work) in order to increase their socio-economic empowerment, the closure of schools for the studies of their children, the closure of churches, the increase in unplanned pregnancies (not using the rules of family planning), the increase in prices for the primary care of children and women.
More than 90% of women said they lack the means to continue with their commercial activities to support their families during this difficult period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Their needs :
- 90% of the women surveyed expressed their need for economic support through the donation of small rotating microcredit grants for their socio-economic empowerment
- Capacity building to carry out their revolving microcredit activities and their commercial activities
- Group of women in ‘solidarity mutuals’
Partner 4. Pakistan
- 16 women said non availability of contraceptives during COVID-19 because of lock down.
- 11 women said that doctors were not paying attention women during delivery.
- 13 women said there was problem of early marriages in our areas, because male people were sitting in homes, they were arranging marriages.
- 19 women said, women were bound in homes, there was no transportation and markets were closed, they faced shortage of sanitary pads.
- 18 women said that Rural women keep poultry, goats and do embroidery work for their livelihood, they lost their poultry and goats due to financial burden.
- 27 women said that they did not have knowledge about COVID-19, COVID Testing and vaccination.
- 27 women said that they were not prepared for epidemic. They did not believe that such an epidemic will disturb lives of poor and rich persons.
Partner 5. Sudan
The results above give an indication that women were from different geographical locations at Khartoum State (101 sample) and White Nile State (25 sample).
Out of the observations it has been indicated accordingly if they experienced any other problems during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their Answers included Mental health issues, feeling depression, anxiousness, sadness and lonely. Some are emotionally suffered due to the interruption of social life and other outdoor activities. The closure of schools and universities also had a negative impact on youth as they were feeling anxious about their future and struggling with online learning. Another problem was inflation and the rise of prices specially food prices.
The Closure of Hospital and Medical Services labs added complexity to the life of some. Some mentioned they had No Problems.
During the interview it has been noticed that Women and Girls evaluate abuse differently as of the term and context; whether physical or verbally.
For Question (9); it is sensitive to be undertaken in the culture context, but rather than that the sample from Kosti (Capital of White Nile State) shows that Girls are married under 16. This was also indicated during the Pandemic.
Most women within the selected population experienced one or more of the main socio-economic problems investigated in the study which include loss of income, increase in their work load at home as they are socially the main care provider, abuse or violence.
The Pandemic results in some getting poorer, with no income, clashes and tensions inside home and family.
No extra means of raising Awareness; hence communication needs to be motivated via a variety of means of Media and Social Media.
Campaigns and involving community in discussion is very important, at least to know their needs and rights.
Partner 6. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Apart from the 9 questions above, there are many other additional issues that women and girls face, as follows:
- Some women young girls earn little and who did cross-border activities between Rwanda and Congo (DRC); they are currently unemployed, and this causes the lack of survival for some families, there is also famine from which the children are malnourished; this case was confirmed by 10 widowed women and 15 others whose husbands do not have a job.
- For lack of schooling among young girls (especially teenagers), a girl was made pregnant at the age of 15 and her mother still paid 200 dollars to the military police officers working in this entity
- In this same community, for lack of schooling during the pandemic; teenage girls are exposed to uncontrolled games that lead to injuries and banditry, this case was testified by a mother whose daughter was blinded by another while playing.
- Other issues that were highlighted by women and girls are:
- The non-assistance on the part of the government in place in the event of gender-based injustices and violence that have increased in this period of the pandemic
- Insufficient treatment due to the lack of medicines and the increase in patients in health posts.
Advocacy Plans Proposed by Project Partners:
Reducing Gender-specific Harms During the Pandemic
After collecting information in the communities located in Nepal, Pakistan, Sudan and DRC (reported above), members of the project were asked to develop plans to advocate for solutions in their communities. Here (below) is a compilation of their proposals, organized by general objectives and approaches.
Main Goal: To reduce gender-specific harms to women and girls that are made worse during the pandemic
- to learn which gender-based harms are affecting women during the pandemic
To learn which gender-based harms are affecting girls and women during the pandemic, in the community where you work
To really know what are these challenges that have increased during the period of covid19
To learn which gender-based harms are affecting girls and women during the pandemic, in the midlevel health service providers women and girls.
- to educate women about these harms and their rights
To educate the girls and women about these harms, their rights, and how to protect one another
To make women and girls understand about their rights and the responsibilities and the precautions they must take during the pandemic.
To educate the girls and women working at midlevel health care service providers about COVID harms, their rights, and how to protect one another
To educate women about gender-specific harms that are affecting girls and women during the pandemic.
To educate girls and women about their rights and how to protect themselves and other women.
Identify the different efforts made by women and girls to address their own problems and challenges
- To mobilize women to stand up for their rights and needs
(see suggested activities, below)
- to educate the boys and men about these harms and their responsibilities
To educate the boys and men about these harms, and about a “positive masculinity” that does not harm girls or women
To make boys and men understand about the moral and physical support they must provide to women during this period of the pandemic.
- to convince local and national governments to implement policies that protect the well-being of women and girls during and after the pandemic
To convince local and national governments to implement policies that protect the well-being of women and girls during and after the pandemic
Address each identified problem to a stakeholder or service that can provide a solution to this challenge
To advocate for the well-being and safety of women and girls during the covid-19 pandemic.
To advocate with local authorities for the economic rights of women and girls during the pandemic and gender equality.
To convince local and national governments to implement policies that protect the well-being of women and girls during and after the pandemic
- to support women by reducing their financial struggles during the pandemic
To support women in reducing their financial struggles during the pandemic by helping them create female-friendly income generating activities.
Steps Proposed to Achieve These Objectives
- Surveys to obtain information
Interview girls and women from each community
- Public awareness
Public educational meetings, private discussions, radio shows, distribute flyers
Educational meetings, distribute flyers
Open space awareness sessions about the impact of covid-19 on Women’s lives
(5 Public lectures) to educate women about gender-specific harms that are affecting girls and women during the pandemic, and to educate girls and women about their rights and how to protect themselves and other women.
Awareness episodes through the radio station and television on the gender-specific negative effects of the Pandemic and how to reduce these effects; target the General Public
- Women’s support groups
Create women’s support groups
Create support groups for women and girls who are providing midlevel health care services.
Organize meetings with groups of women and girls where women themselves will elect their representatives who are leaders, dynamic, available, capable of identifying the efforts that they are making themselves to respond to the various problems.
- Men’s support groups
Create men’s support groups to educate the boys and men about the situation of women and girls, and to help them understand about the moral and physical support they must provide to women during this period of the pandemic
- Advocacy & Mobilization of communities
Provide educational materials
Send a delegation of community members to meet with officials
Write articles or provide interviews for the news
Present radio shows
Picket (protest) with signs near their office
Run a candidate for political office
Advocacy and raising awareness Zoom session on the gender-specific negative effects of the Pandemic to advocate for the wellbeing and safety of women and girls during the covid-19 pandemic ; target Stakeholders, Decision makers, health care workers, Practitioners and CSOs working in social protection, health and environment
Bring women together by organizing a conference of the various elected women leaders with the local authorities to draw up letters (request for support) addressed to the various organizations most concerned and which are at work in this community.
Present radio broadcasts
Place signs along the roads
Organize meetings (while respecting covid distancing measures)
Advocacy meetings with members of national government to implement policies to protect midlevel health service provider women and girls during and after pandemic.
Set up a commission (a group of women leaders) working in this same community where I work, who could contact the various authorized structures (public health services ; provincial health divisions ; Social Affairs Division ; local and international NGOs ; Humanitarian Aid Agencies)
Community Mobilization: Raise awareness, foster community empowerment, build community capacity to deal with the issue; target: general public, specific groups of people Indigenous people.
Authorities: Raise awareness, change behavior; target: general public, specific groups of people
Advocacy: Raising awareness, changing the social context through decision-making and policy development; target: specific groups of influential people
Advocating: Organize three days of advocacy to challenge political and administrative decision-makers to protect girls who are victims of sexual violence and to enforce the law enforcement; target: specific groups of influential people
NOTE: One particular local organization also supports for the claim of indigenous women and girls against the dispossession of their agricultural land for the benefit of gold mining activities; serendipitously, they told us that “our COVID project contributed to breaking the silence on that issue by organizing protection and advocacy actions with a view to attracting attention, influencing decision-making and the execution of decisions by the competent local authorities; target: specific groups of influential people” [their words, translated from French].
- Reduce financial struggles
Provide training for 100 women on making non-disposable face masks, to help create income generating activities for women; target women from low income communities
We greatly thank the eight partners who worked on this project in their communities:
- Peace Foundation (Pakistan)
- BRIGHT LIFE (Nepal)
- Golden Future (Nepal)
- Environmental Initiative for Sustainable Development (Sudan)
- Action de Solidarité des Femmes pour le Développement en Milieu Rural (DR Congo)
- Association des Jeunes Visionnaires pour le Développement du Congo (DR Congo)
- Femmes et Education des Adultes (DR Congo)
- Conseil Consultatif de Femme Africaine (DR Congo)