The team leading the Issues Affecting Women Programme at the Oak Foundation have made an emergency Covid-19 grant to MMW with a focus on domestic violence, the “epidemic within the epidemic.” With this funding our MMW-SL team is mobilizing quickly to be able to reach the most vulnerable populations during this crisis.
MMW is uniquely positioned to save lives in Sierra Leone during the global COVID-19 pandemic because we have built a trusted communications network in vulnerable rural areas. Sierra Leone is just beginning to see the impact of COVID-19. MMW-SL has already shifted its focus to delivering critical information on the virus to the rural areas where we operate. Our journalists have developed COVID-19 podcasts in Krio, Mende and Limba which have been uploaded to Soundcloud and are available for immediate distribution. https://soundcloud.com/mediamattersforwomen
We have created a COVID-19 Task Force to design a new concept. Shifting our distribution operations away from our Listening Center concept will be the most important change. Another is remote working for our team but that should not pose a big challenge as most staff are ready to work from home. The biggest challenge will be to transfer our podcasts effectively and without personal contact to remote communities.
Communities experiencing Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014-15 rapidly learnt from scratch how to cope with a deadly new infection. Like Ebola, Covid-19 is a family disease, in the sense that many infections occur in the home. The name for Ebola in Mende, one of the main languages of Sierra Leone, was “bonda wote,” literally “family turn round.” In other words, it was clearly recognised that this was a disease requiring families to change behaviour, especially in caring for the sick. Covid-19 will require similar changes at the family level, especially regarding the elderly and the women who are their primary caretakers. Current studies are estimating that COVID-19 spreads five times more rapidly than Ebola, so although there are many parallels between that crisis and the current situation, it is more important than ever to rapidly get information to women which will allow them to protect themselves and their families.
Information is Especially Needed for the Marginalized
Marginalized groups may find themselves particularly vulnerable during this crisis. Women, the elderly, adolescents, youth, and children, persons with disabilities, indigenous populations, refugees, migrants, and minorities experience the highest degree of risk in public health emergencies. As explained in “COVID-19: How to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement:”
· Women make up large parts of the health workforce. Most primary caregivers to the ill are women.
· Women are more likely to be engaged in the informal sector and be hardest hit economically by COVID-19.
· Women experience increased risks of gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation.
· Cultural factors may exclude women from decision-making spaces and restrict their access to information on outbreaks and availability of services.
· Women might experience interrupted access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to family planning.
· In some cultural contexts, gender roles may dictate women cannot obtain health services independently or from male service providers.
UN Suggested Actions to Benefit the Marginalized
Our podcaststs will focus exclusively on Covid-19 related topics to and address where possible the UN’s “Suggested Actions to Benefit the Marginalized”:
· Ensure that people understand that community engagement teams need to be gender- balanced and promote women’s leadership.
· Provide specific advice for women – many of whom care for children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups in quarantine, and who may not be able to avoid close contact.
· Discuss provisions and services available for childcare, transport, and safety for any in-person community engagement activities.
· Focus on the issue of frontline medical personnel and whether they are gender- balanced and health facilities are culturally and gender sensitive.