Rights in Crisis

  • We believe that the women, men and children who are affected by conflicts and disasters have a right to live in safety and dignity. Those most at risk – whether because of an earthquake, a drought or civil war – have a right to a life free from violence, and to have clean water, shelter and food. They also have the right to be heard and to take control of their own lives.

Life under lockdown - How Syrian refugees are protecting each other against Covid-19

"Some people thought flies could carry and transmit Covid-19 or that garlic, herbs and licorice-root tea could cure you of it… Others asked whether it was just the elderly who were at risk,” explains Aysha, a Syrian refugee at Za’atari Refugee Camp.

“There were so many rumours circulating a few weeks ago that it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t.”

As Covid-19 continues its relentless spread, refugees at Za’atari camp in Jordan are petrified at the thought of it hitting their community.

Photo: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees like Aysha embarked on harrowing and dangerous journeys in search of safety. Almost ten years later, the  Za’atari Refugee Camp remains home to tens of thousands of people.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic continues its indiscriminate spread, proving no country or community is immune, researchers and experts continue to sound alarm bells about the devastation that could be unleashed if the virus spreads in refugee camps - places simply not built to weather a crisis of this nature.

Over the last few weeks, in an effort to protect against Covid-19, Oxfam’s programming adjusted - in an effort to ensure refugees are equipped as best as possible, Oxfam immediately kick-started online and offline hygiene awareness campaigns, community information sessions and a sophisticated phone tree network to disseminate messages and updates to as many people as possible.

“We’ve created a number of different chat groups on various platforms to spread awareness on the virus,” Aysha says.

“We stop rumours in their tracks, answer questions, listen to concerns and steer people in the right direction about everything from hand washing and hygiene to physical distancing. We also make sure that people only share material from reliable and valid sources.”

Aysha is one of hundreds of paid volunteers who are part of Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme designed to give refugees work opportunities, training, and a source of income.

The programme recognises and builds on existing skill-sets in a number of different areas that range from environmental caretakers and cleaners, community outreach workers, recycling workers and technical engineers. It was set up to fill a long-standing gap that made it difficult for refugees in the country – especially women – to access permits to work outside the camps.

As one of 18 community engagement workers trained to mobilise, engage and raise awareness throughout the Za’atari community, Aysha’s job these days is more important than ever.

Syrian refugee youth taking part in a hygiene awareness session co-organized by Oxfam/UNICEF well before any confirmed cases reportedly reached Jordan. Photo by: Nesma Alnsour

“We anticipated it eventually hitting here even though the virus still felt like it was far away, it seemed like only a matter of time", says Mohannad Abu Siam, Oxfam’s Senior Community Engagement Officer.

“We knew we needed an outreach strategy that could reach the most people in the least amount of time and we got to work immediately,” he says.

“We were on our phones, coordinating meetings, scribbling on white boards, organising phone trees, running community information seminars – including a partnership with UNICEF to run hygiene awareness sessions at schools and youth centres throughout the camp.”

Today, over 400 volunteers are part of a sophisticated messaging network that’s estimated to reach tens of thousands of refugees every day, cascading key updates, fielding questions and methodically tracking information that helps inform outreach material.

Oxfam’s Senior Community Engagement Officer, Mohannad Abu Siam leads one of many hygiene awareness sessions with students at Za'atari Refugee Camp. Photo by: Aisha Shtiwi

The nationwide curfew measures that have transformed the entire country have also changed life at Za’atari.

“Given how widespread the misinformation was about Covid-19, it’s rewarding to know I’m helping our community. The message to stay home was hard at first but given what the camp looks like these days, I think we got through,” Aysha says.

What was once a bustling five-square-kilometre refugee camp full of lively markets and street vendors, selling everything from wedding dresses to local cheese has since been transformed to a labyrinth of deserted streets, closed-up store fronts and an unfamiliar quiet has flooded the camp - no longer are the streets full of young and old making the best of unfortunate circumstances.

While she sits in her small caravan responding to community messages coming into her phone, Aysha’s two young children are glued to online classes.

“Students are now learning from home, meaning we get an additional ten hours of electricity during the day and then another two in the evening.”

Aysha describes the challenges of adjusting to these unprecedented times. Her frustration never articulated, but discernible in her voice.

“I lost my husband to the war. I’m the one that takes care of the kids, our home and the one that works. The most important thing to me is my kid’s education. So, I’m doing my best. I’m trying to help them with their homework, but this remote-learning system simply isn’t the same”, she says.

Despite it, she deliberately makes a point to express her gratitude.

“My work means everything to me, it’s not just a livelihood opportunity or just a job, it has given me a sense of purpose, ownership and agency. It’s so gratifying to be able to help raise awareness and connect with the community in these times of need.”

When asked how she feels about the future given the pandemic and the new normal that has become life under curfew, Aysha hangs onto a similar optimism.

“I think it’ll pass. It’ll pass, and we’ll soon be back to our normal lives where Za’atari’s streets will be buzzing once again the way they used to be. For now, I’m just glad that everyone is taking it seriously. I’m glad they’re following the curfew rules and staying home. And I’m so glad to help be a part of helping spread that message.

Ultimately, its precisely that that’s going to get us through this.”

Words by: Eiman Zarrug (based on an interview conducted by Aisha Shtiwi)

**This initiative would not be possible without the generous support and funding from the European Union (EU), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and UNICEF.

**Contents of this piece are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and don't necessarily represent views of the donors.


This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.

Together, we can save lives.

Trust comes first: strengthening COVID-19 prevention mechanism in Rohingya camps

Since Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Bangladesh and Mayanmar began in September 2017, we dedicated our efforts to building relationships with the Rohingya refugee community and traditional community leaders like Majhis and Imams. Majhis and Imams hold an important role the camps as people listen to and respect their advice, and so they lead on developing community action plans for proper hygiene management to help reduce public health risks. Community-based Volunteers have also played an important role in ensuring accurate, timely information is passed onto people, and they have played a central role in strengthening Oxfam’s relationship with the wider community.

Damage following heavy rains at Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. Photo: Mutasim Billah/Oxfam

COVID-19 now poses serious challenges for all people in the camps – both refugees and humanitarian responders. Aid agencies are only allowed to run essential services and as a part of the government’s directive, we are continuing our water, hygiene, and sanitation services – ensuring people have access to clean water and soap. It is a challenging task as only a handful of our team can access the camps because of strict regulatory controls that are in place to prevent the spread of the virus. Over the last three weeks, we have been providing essential emergency services successfully, and it has been possible because of Oxfam’s trusted relationship with the community.

It is amazing to see the leadership of the community in this challenging time. Community Based Volunteers and the community in general are playing an active role in keeping WASH services functioning, while our front-line warriors have taken up the role of facilitators and communicators.


Iffat, Oxfam aid worker, training Rohingya refugees about good health and hygiene in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Oxfam

For example, Majhis are now monitoring the functionality of wash facilities and solid waste management at the block level. Imams are encouraging the community to practice hand washing with soap, maintain cleanliness of sanitation facilities and practice physical distancing in public places. Religious leaders are also encouraging people to practise their religious activities at home, to help slow the spread and keep people safe.

As Oxfam, we have a duty to ensure the correct information about COVID-19 is disseminated. Whenever people see Oxfam warriors in the camp, they approach to them for advice and information on a number of issues. Experiencing Oxfam as a trusted source of information demonstrates the importance of maintaining functional and empowering relationship with the communities, we work with everyday - because at the end of the day, we really are all in this together.

Dipankar Datta, Oxfam Country Director in Bangladesh

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.


Earth Day 2020: COVID-19 and Climate Emergency harshly exploit our unequal world.

Today is International Earth Day – one that we will remember against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has shown how interconnected our world and the people living in it are.

Rohingya refugee Ayesha collecting water for her family in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam

This year’s theme is the climate crisis – “the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.” Yet, moves to address the climate crisis have been lackluster at best and any sense of urgency to act – championed by our young people – now seems to be waning as the climate crisis does not threaten our immediate survival, unlike COVID-19.

With each day, more of us are being personally affected by the coronavirus. In every family, community and country, wherever we may be, we know we must take care of each other.

It threatens us all, but it endangers people living in poverty and vulnerable situations the most - exposing and exploiting the extreme inequalities that define our world – much in the same way as the climate crisis does.

While the richest in countries across the globe have access to healthcare and cash to get by, most of humanity faces both of these crises with neither. One in two people struggle daily to survive, and changing climates have grossly impacted millions of lives this year alone – locusts, lack of food and water, extreme weather events collapsing homes and livelihoods, and bush fires. Our recent research shows that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty, setting the fight against poverty back by up to 30 years in some parts of the world, including Africa. Not only will this make it more difficult to rebuild post-virus, but it will also greatly reduce poorer countries’ ability to respond to climate change.

As a network that fights inequality to end poverty and injustice in more than 90 countries, Oxfam is doing its part to tackle the coronavirus. We’re working non-stop to support the most vulnerable – delivering clean water, sanitation and public health promotion programmes, ensuring people have food to eat and getting cash to those most in need, among other life-saving initiatives. More than ever we rely upon the compassion and generosity of supporters new and old to do so.

Wael Algadi (PHP Pfficer) at hygiene kit distribution in Alkoba IDPs Camp, Taiz, Yemen. Photo: Hitham Ahmed / Oxfam

We know that only ambitious political action by our governments – acting together – can overcome this crisis. Many governments are acting quickly, but within their borders. We need governments to scale up their response to levels never seen in our lifetimes. They must unleash a global public health and emergency response to save lives, and the largest ever economic stimulus for people to help their families through this crisis.

Every government, institution and person must play its part and those with the broadest shoulders should bear most of the cost - we need suspension and cancellation of poorer nations’ debt payments.

We’re indebted to all frontline workers - health workers and humanitarians, carers, supermarket workers and neighbours – and all those who we now rely upon to hold up our world. We’re in this together - to stop a catastrophe and to shift irreversibly towards a sustainable, more equal and kinder world.

Most importantly, when we overcome the threat of COVID-19, we need to mobilise the same level of political and public will and compassion to begin the process of rectifying the harm we have caused our planet and environment and kick start a future that offers hope for everyone.

Let’s hope that Earth Day 2020 marks a turning point and we move forward together to beat poverty and inequality, and for a sustainable and fair world for everyone woman, man and child.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.

Six ways in which the Coronavirus response is impacting women’s lives

The majority of countries in Latin America (and many in the rest of the world) have taken measures to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19): closure of schools, universities and offices, “home-based work” for some privileged sectors, reduction or suspension of public transport, closing of borders, etc. We are facing a health crisis that not only highlights the failure of austerity policies and hyper-globalized neoliberal economies; it also exacerbates the great inequalities and injustices that fall fundamentally on the shoulders of women. First, because they are the main caregivers of our societies: through unpaid, unrecognized, undervalued work, and second, because women are usually more vulnerable to the impact of, mostly due to the prevalent conditions such as: sexist and gender-based violence, forced migration, climate crisis, informality, precarious jobs, overload of care work, etc.

Photo: Valerie Caamaño / Oxfam.

1) The heavy and unequal responsibility of care work

Oxfam emphasizes in the Time to Care report published in January 2020, that the heavy and unequal responsibility of care work placed on women perpetuates both economic inequalities and gender inequality. Faced with the closure of schools and services, time poverty will increase enormously, with paid work and unpaid work adding up to extremely long days. The few privileged ones who will not be fired and will be able to work from home will have to do it with the frying pan and the broom in hand, while still ensuring a minimum of recreation at home. The Coronavirus is also making the centrality of care visible and reaffirming the fundamental of intersectional, gender-justice and multidimensional analyzes and responses.

2) Women at the forefront of the Coronavirus

Let’s start with the workers who are immediately on the front line of the response to the virus, the teachers, the nurses, those who care for the sick at home. In countries like Mexico, women represent 78% of the health and education sector (INEGI, 2012). Most of these women do not have the labor or health benefits to cope with a pandemic of this scale, however, they have been the first to respond.

3) In isolation time, gender based violence increases

The coronavirus is leading to social isolation, job and wage insecurities. Evidence shows that when social stress increases, so do cases of violence against women. As this has been demonstrated repeatedly, home is not a safe place for women and the institutional framework focused on addressing the crisis is neglecting other vital areas of women’s rights.

Furthermore, social isolation can make it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships, dramatically reduce the possibility of reporting violence, cuts them off from community support networks and greatly reduces the already scarce attention to victims’ services. In times of crisis, sexual and reproductive health services are being suspended, because in addition to being some of the most under-funded services, they are being de-prioritized even more during this emergency.

Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam Intermón.

4) Women in the informal sector (the majority are women) will suffer from lack of customers

According to UN Women, 54% of women in Latin America depend on the informal sector as their only source of income. We see them every day in the markets, in the streets or in the fields, earning “the day” as they say. What measures are governments taking to secure their income in the absence of customers, when they do not even have the capacity to save money, never mind prepare for or even become ill with the Coronavirus? Do governments really believe they will be able to stay at home?

5) Millions of women will not be able to abide by the basic measures to prevent the Coronavirus

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in Latin America there are more than 14 million women who work for a family. Like other human rights organizations, they point out that paid domestic work is one of the lowest-quality occupations: long working hours, low wages, low social security coverage and a high level of non-compliance with labor standards. How many of the preventive measures could these women abide by? Staying home is not an option because they would automatically lose their only source of income.

In Central America alone, 263,000 textile workers live exploited in the “free zones” or maquilas. They represent 58% of the total workforce in the sector (Oxfam, 2015). In Honduras, among the workers’ time saving strategies are: not getting up from their post, arriving before the start time of the shift to get ahead, not speaking with their colleagues, reducing their lunch breaks, not drinking water to avoid going to the bathroom and thus be able to meet productivity goals. How many of the preventive measures could these women abide by? Even frequent hand washing would be out of the question when frequent use of the restrooms at these companies may result in a note going on their record.

6) Women and children fleeing violence are trapped at borders

In October 2018, the caravans of Central American migrants to the United States intensified. A report by the Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM) ​​indicates that the common variable among women, girls, and adolescents who are forced to migrate is the high levels of violence they experience. The big question is: what implications do the measures taken by governments have on forced migration? It seems that the Coronavirus became the perfect excuse to close borders, apply extreme measures and violate human rights when the world isn’t watching.

Meanwhile, what other options do these women and their families have to face this public health crisis that comes in addition to other crises they have been facing for so many years? The burden of women’s domestic and care work is a structural factor of gender inequality that greatly restricts women’s chances of having their own income, access to social protection and to participate fully in politics and society.

Stakeholders from civil society, governments and the private sector must place domestic and care work as a central element in the gender equality agenda. We urgently need governments to implement policies, allocate budgets and deploy efforts for the advancement of women’s rights.

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Trapped by the blockade, the people of Gaza cannot escape COVID-19

The recent lockdowns and restrictions make it feel like a strange time to be alive. Sadly, for Palestinians, it’s part and parcel of the struggle of everyday life. And now, as COVID-19 spreads across the globe, they face a new threat.

Pandemic or no pandemic, Gaza is already experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis. A 13-year-long blockade has devastated the economy, caused widespread destruction and left most people largely cut off from the outside world.

Ahmed will take his donkey and cart out several times a week to fetch clean water. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

With more than 5,000 people per square kilometre, the besieged enclave – where, as of 3rd April, there were 12 official cases of COVID-19 – is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Social distancing is key to keeping the virus at bay but Palestinians living under the blockade are trapped. Poor water infrastructure also means that proper hand washing is often impossible.

Residents have nowhere to go and no means of avoiding transmission. In an area where one in eight people relies on life-saving aid, the virus would do untold damage to two million vulnerable people.

A major outbreak is likely to see the collapse of Gaza’s ailing health system, which is already overrun with patients suffering from waterborne diseases. Gaza is also dependent on Israel for critical medical cases, but the threat of COVID-19 has created a level of collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis that has rarely, if ever, been seen before.

As well as the health system implications, COVID-19 could further destroy the economy of Gaza, which already has an unemployment rate of 47 percent. Small shops have shut their doors due to the crisis and business-owners have no income to pay their staff or provide for their own families. With movement restricted even more to prevent a further spread of the virus in Gaza, many families are already finding themselves unable to put food on the table.

With our humanitarian staff in Gaza bracing themselves for the worst, funding is vital to ensure that the weak economy and health system won’t completely collapse

What Oxfam is doing

With the support of Irish Aid, our teams have mobilised to urgently respond to the threat of Covid-19 in Gaza. We are providing protection equipment for healthcare workers, beds for patients in quarantine centres, soap and other essential hygiene products. We’re also providing hygiene kits to vulnerable families through our partner organisations.

Oxfam staff receiving hygiene and protective gear items that will be distributed in quarantine centres. Photo: Sami Alhaw/Oxfam

Our water engineers are ensuring public water taps used by the most vulnerable families can be used safely. With no other source of clean water, these families are most at risk of catching the virus.

We’re helping the vulnerable families put food on the table and buy hygiene items and access clean water to protect them from the outbreak. We are currently maintaining 14 water filling points in vulnerable communities where between 35,000 and 70,000 people will need to rely on depending on the severity of the outbreak. In addition, we’re spreading awareness about best hygiene and health practices to avoid further spread of cases across the West Bank, where 148 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed.

This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.
Together, we can save lives.