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Say Enough: Why dismantling patriarchal norms is more important than ever this International Women's Day

By Victoria Stetsko, Rebecca Shadwick and Alejandra Aguilar of Oxfam’s Enough! campaign

5 March 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has been called “the great equalizer”.

However, the past 12 months made it clear that the most excluded, oppressed, and vulnerable groups, such as girls and women in all their diversity, have been disproportionately affected by its impact. How can we build a more equal and resilient world? As we prepare to mark International Women’s Day this Monday, 8 March, here are some lessons the Enough team has learnt from four years of campaigning on social norm change to end gender-based violence. Spoiler alert: we need to dismantle patriarchal norms.

We’ve had many opportunities to listen to feminist activists from over 30 countries while co-creating and implementing the Enough! campaign together. For over four years, we’ve been working to mobilise alongside young people who want to live in societies free from gender-based violence (GBV), to support them to take bold steps against the patriarchal norms that underpin such violence. The new reality induced by the pandemic demonstrates the relevance of this collaboration.

 

 

 

The gendered effects of the pandemic were immediately evident. Reports of GBV surged in many countries which introduced lockdowns. Worldwide, women were the first to lose their jobs, shoulder the increased responsibilities of unpaid care work, and encounter restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services.

 

Those facing discrimination due to their age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, health conditions and migration status prior to the pandemic saw the risks and impact of social and economic exclusion multiplied.

While the adverse effect on girls and women is alarming, the often-total lack of consideration for their vulnerabilities in most countries’ Covid-responses is shocking. According to UNDP’s Covid-19 Gender Response Tracker, less than 15 percent of countries introduced measures to tackle violence against women and girls and to support women who faced economic insecurity. But women are finding other ways of making themselves heard.  In 2020, we saw a surge in feminist protests for access to safe abortions, livelihoods, political participation and ending police brutality in Poland, Turkey, Nigeria, Argentina and India. When patriarchy deprives women of their voices, they rise. 

Listening to feminist activists and amplifying their voices have been at the core of the Enough campaign. Here are just some of the lessons we’ve learnt through this global collaboration:

Making the invisible visible

The World Health Organisation asks countries to collect the gender-disaggregated data on the effects of Covid-19 on men and women, because data makes the invisible visible. Similarly, we’ve been exploring how social belief systems affect the prevalence of GBV. The results of the research we led in 12 Latin American countries highlight eight key patriarchal norms which contribute to the region’s high GBV rates. In Russia, Bolivia and the Philippines, campaigners documented social experiments which test norms and attitudes towards survivors of violence. Data helps expose the systemic nature of social problems and offers pathways to solutions. That’s why even after the lockdowns hit, we continued to collect it.

Nothing about us without us

The national chapters of the Enough! campaign have been co-created and co-led by women and young people. “Evoluciona” campaign in Cuba partnered with the National Federation of Cuban Women, and “ACTÚA Detén la violencia” in Bolivia was co-designed by 15 local youth organisations. Creating spaces for the leadership of youth and feminist organisations fosters ownership and authenticity of the campaign and allows them to decide on the methods for delivering key messages and addressing the identified patriarchal norm change. In Bolivia, the campaign featured meme competitions and campaigning bootcamps; in China, feminist skits – and in Russia, social media marathons. 

The power of storytelling

The stories we tell shape our society and how it functions. From its inception, the Enough! campaign included artists in its design and roll-out for this reason. Street art, poetry, cinema, dance, theatre, illustration, and music help us imagine the future without patriarchy and the violence it sustains and thrives in. During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence in 2019, the “Say Enough Cypher” brought together poets, spoken word artists and musicians to speak out against the widespread social tolerance of GBV. Last year, the pandemic prompted us to celebrate feminist resilience and solidarity through recipes to #LockdownPatriarchy.

In Oxfam’s Global Strategy for 2020-2030, it names patriarchy as one of the systems of oppression we must dismantle to eliminate extreme inequality. As the pandemic continues to reveal, patriarchy is not an issue that only feminists have to deal with – it must be tackled by everyone. We wanted to share the incredible work and lessons we've learned, in the hopes that others will use it to say Enough to GBV. We've compiled what we've learned into a progress report, which is available here. For more updates, follow @SayEnoughCampaign and @Oxfam on social.

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A story of resilience on International Women’s Day 2021: The Kenyan activist protecting women and girls amid the COVID-19 pandemic

This is a production of the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders Kenya (CGHRD Kenya). This publication was supported and funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

8 March 2021

My name is Editar Adhiambo Ochieng. I’m a mother and woman rights defender.

I’m the founder and CEO of the Feminist for Peace, Rights and Justice Centre (FPRJC), located in the heart of Kibera – the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The FPRJC is a feminist-oriented organisation that focuses on the proactive leadership of young women in the society in addressing issues on sexual- and gender-based violence (GBV).

Editar Adhiambo Ochieng, founder and CEO of the Feminist for Peace, Rights and Justice Centre. Photo: Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Our organisation helps women realise their full potential and also get fair justice and equal opportunities in the society. People who have suffered the most in the community are women. They experience violence, depression and other abuse on a daily basis. It is a persisting challenge that we must address and eradicate.

During the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I worked long hours in the community to ensure the safety for women and girls. This meant I had to be away from my family for endless hours. It was a challenging time.

We were dealing with a strange pandemic with catastrophic consequences. We just did not know how bad the devastating impact was going to be on our lives and livelihood but we had to keep going. When I realised that the ravages of Covid-19 were going to last longer than anticipated, I was overcome with fear.

The future of my work and service to the community of Kibera now looked uncertain and grim. But as a voice for the voiceless, I could not just sit there and do nothing. Instead, I mobilised my team of community human rights defenders for some much-needed interventions amid the pandemic.

This meant that I had to stay away from my family and two children. I stayed for about 60 days without seeing them which made me depressed. I stayed away from home because as I worked with the community, I was afraid I would infect my children and family with the disease.

We were also confronted by the reality of the rising cases of domestic violence as lockdown regulations were implemented. I was interacting with almost everyone in my community. I had to take my children away from Kibera because I felt like I would be affecting them every day in a different way since I was dealing with so many different situations at a go.

The only thing that gave me hope was the constant phone communication with my children, family and close friends. My 11-year-old daughter kept on encouraging me, giving me the motivation that I needed to strengthen my resilience. When you are drowning in difficulties and a child tells you, 'Be strong mama, it will be okay.' This is the best motivation you need.

Covid-19 has affected me and the community very negatively. Women and girls were going through sexual and domestic violence; some women had to seek unsafe abortions; boys were being sexually abused, and people from different parts of the world were experiencing police brutality.

I have been so heartbroken from seeing people from my community suffer. Most hospital facilities were closed and many girls and women could not access contraceptives. That led to so many unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Many young women developed complications and others lost their lives in the process.

Editar Adhiambo Ochieng out meeting women in the community in Kibera. Photo: Mercy Mumo/Vivian Kiarie

Our office has a small space where we host young women and girls in distress who have been through rape and domestic violence as we try to deal with the authorities. Some women end up leaving their homes and that leads to more broken families in the community. Throughout this period, this small space was full.

Being an activist and a human rights defender in a community that’s so vulnerable to all kinds of abuse is not easy. Not everyone will accept and appreciate what you do. You must persist nonetheless to focus on the goal of offering service to the wellbeing of women and girls.

This pandemic has really taught me a lot. For instance, I have learned that not everyone will be happy when your purpose in life is to help others and ensure their wellbeing. For us as a foundation, every time and any time is women power!

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The Digital World - Experiences and insights from feminists in MENA

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. This year, it comes one week after hundreds of thousands of intimate images of Irish women were released online without their consent or knowledge.

 

All types of violence practised offline are reflected online as yet another patriarchal space.

~ Hayat Mershad, Lebanon

Since early 2000, digital technologies have had continuously and rapidly changing implications for the way the world around us works. Technology has transformed how we interact socially, engage in public debates and political discourse, and organise and mobilise for social change – providing space and tools for innovation and new ways of working.

Since the pandemic halted our “normal” way of life, the use of digital platforms has considerably intensified, and so to have the risks for women using these platforms.

To delve into this a little deeper, we interviewed young feminist activists from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to highlight the experiences and aspirations of young women and feminist activists in the MENA region around digital spaces, safety, and rights.

 

Whenever women are more visible, they pay the price.

~ Maya Ammar, Lebanon

For context, the MENA region is characterised by deeply embedded patriarchal social norms and oppressive authoritarian regimes.

Women are confined to roles prescribed by those norms, their personal freedoms are constrained, and their participation in public spaces is restricted. So, digital platforms have emerged as an alternative space for women to overcome these restrictions, by facilitating their engagement in public debates and their ability to voice their demands and to have a stronger collective voice.

However, despite providing an alternative, the digital space reflects, or mirrors, the patriarchal social norms of the offline world that normalise violence and protect perpetrators. The digital space has also intensified existing inequalities and harmful norms and practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to what has been dubbed a “pandemic of online gender-based violence”.

To make matters even worse, state-sanctioned surveillance puts restrictions (and sometimes threats) on Internet users – creating further manifestations of systemic oppression and control over the way women represent or express themselves in digital spaces.

 

Digital technologies are a double-edged sword.

~ Suhair Faraj, OPT

Digital platforms have already proven to be a useful, accessible, and cost-effective tool for feminist and women’s rights organisations (WROs) in their work towards social change. When face-to-face communication and movement are restricted, such as in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) due to occupation and geographical fragmentation, or during the recent uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon, or yet again, during the COVID-19 pandemic, their work has been significantly facilitated by online tools and platforms. WROs have been able to sustain their work, reach more people, disseminate critical information, and continue responding to the needs of women and their communities.

These platforms, nevertheless, also open the door to individual and mass attacks against those organisations, the women involved, and the content itself.

 

The digital space is not a safe space, but it’s a brave one.

~ Lilav Ihsan, Iraq

Women’s rights and feminist movements have been a critical force for social change in MENA, but they face increased restrictions in a region where civic space is closing at a dangerous pace. Digital platforms have offered an alternative space for discussions, mutual learning and support, as well as solidarity and resistance through garnering collective power.

However, feminist activists regularly face violent attacks, threats and defamation campaigns whenever they are active online. They are often silenced when they express their opinions, engage in political debates, or speak out against violence and harassment.

So, while the digital space provides room for resistance and solidarity, it is also a tool in the hands of the oppressors.

Despite the constant risks associated with the digital space, it remains a public space that is constantly being claimed and reclaimed by women across the region – as is the actual world around us where women struggle to remain present and safe.

To find out more about the future of digital spaces for women in MENA – download the full report.

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Budget 2021: A perfect opportunity to address gender justice

Achieving Gender Justice - our Pre-budget Submission recommendations

The coronavirus crisis has once again revealed that care work – which is often unpaid – is a “hidden engine”, one that keeps the figurative wheels of our economy and society turning. It is driven by women and girls who remain trapped at the bottom of the economic ladder because they have little or no time to earn a decent living, become active in their communities, or even have a say in how their societies are run. In Ireland and beyond, paid and unpaid care work is still highly gendered and undervalued – both financially and societally. Many care workers are still paid poverty wages.

Across the world, women and girls do more than three-quarters of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce. They carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. When valued at the minimum wage, this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

Like the global situation, care work in Ireland – both paid and unpaid – is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services, such as childcare and care for older people, by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market, if they can afford it.

The crisis has also highlighted the importance of low-wage workers, deemed essential during the pandemic. As many of 82 percent of all cashiers are women. Women were also on the frontlines in hospitals and clinics, with females accounting for 76 percent of healthcare workers in the EU alone. Women are also more likely to care for the sick and elderly in their own homes. Throughout this pandemic, women have put their families and society first – but have received little in terms of economic reward or societal recognition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again shown us the value of women and carers to our society.

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Climate, Covid and Care: Feminist Journeys

The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty, and both are increasing inequality. As we look for ways to fight back, this new zine offers reflections on feminist approaches around the world. What can we learn from young peoples’ leadership? How can we value and integrate Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge? Why is intersectionality crucial in responding to a crisis? How can we build more caring, sustainable societies?

Climate, Covid and Care: Feminist Journeys is a collection of journeys, stories, and ideas from five feminist activists working at the intersection of gender justice and climate justice.

Betty Barkha, she/her

“COVID reiterated the fact that climate change is a threat-multiplier. Just because the entire world is on lockdown, doesn’t mean that climate change or the patriarchy are on lockdown. When Tropical Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga in March [2020], people’s homes were blown away. How can you be physically, socially distancing when you’ve got no home and evacuation centres are crammed?

“As always, women were the worst hit in this double crisis situation. They were locked in with their abusers. Access to contraceptives was limited. Women’s care work was overloaded. In the Pacific, women are primary caretakers, live with extended families and the care burden is extremely high.

“Solutions have to be two-tiered; targeted at short-term and immediate, but also long-term and sustainable. It can’t be one or the other, we have to figure out a way to make them both work in a way that’s gender inclusive and socially inclusive. It's about shifting the oppressive and restrictive power structures in order to incorporate the needs of the communities. It’s always been about justice.”

Meera Ghani, she/her

“COVID brought attention to a lot of the asks that disability justice groups have been demanding, like remote working. To the asks that care workers have been demanding, like increased wages, because their work is essential. In the lack of government responses, people came to each other's aid. Here we have a lot of learning to do from Indigenous leaders, but also from Black, trans and queer communities. Because they have been practicing community care like no other, forever. We have seen a lot of their own approaches and methodologies come to the fore.

“We need to divest from institutions and corporations that are life-threatening: those that are killing the planet, killing the people. We need degrowth in the northern economies –those that enable the life-threatening conditions. We need to decolonise hearts and minds. It’s not a limited pie that we must distribute in a certain way, we must get away from this scarcity mentality. We need to reinvest in communities, institutions, and organisations that are life-affirming. And then we need the redistribution of wealth and resources in a fundamentally different way.”

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5 reasons why the COVID-19 crisis needs a feminist response now

Author: Christin Becker and Mara Brückner, Oxfam Germany

COVID-19 is currently occupying the entire world and requires action that takes into account the most vulnerable. Good crisis management requires more than just scientific research - it also requires a political and social response. Feminism has already developed the ideas that can now close the existing gaps of inequality, which have become even more obvious in our current shared time of crisis.

So here are five reasons why we need a feminist response now:

1. Each and every person is valuable.

Our actions must align with the fact that every person is valuable – accepting this fact is critical for each of us to live together in an increasingly interdependent world. The measures that governments take today will shape our future in the medium and long term. Anyone who sees existing inequalities and discrimination – whether based on gender, ethnic origin, age or state of health – as marginal issues that are not pressing in times of crisis, is missing the point.

2. The crisis hits some people harder than others. We need answers that address inequalities.

We are all worried about our loved ones and ourselves right now. We all feel uneasy and sometimes even afraid. After all, the pandemic has reached every corner of our world. However, it is also true that this crisis hits each of us differently. People who do not have a (safe) home, who live in poverty or have exploitative working conditions, as well as those who are chronically ill are worse impacted. Above all, older women and single mothers, who according to the United Nations are over represented among the poor and those at risk of poverty, are most severely affected by the current state of emergency.

A look at previous pandemics gives us an idea of what long-term the consequences of the crisis could mean for women in particular. Although all income fell as a result of Ebola in West Africa, “men’s incomes have returned to pre-epidemic levels more quickly than women’s,” health researcher Julia Smith told the New York Times. And even under normal circumstances women worldwide earn 23 per cent less than men, who in turn have 50 per cent more assets. This inequality is being exacerbated by the crisis.

Meanwhile more than 70 per cent of healthcare workers worldwide are women. Women also carry out more than 70 per cent of unpaid work worldwide, performing three times as much unpaid work as men. This responsibility is intensified by school closures and increased illness, which leads to a growing burden for carers - a burden for which political answers are often lacking.

This must change now. Unpaid, as well as underpaid, care and nursing work must be spread over different (and more male) shoulders. Instead of continuing to systematically devalue this work, it must be given the status it deserves and recognised globally for its role in social cohesion and propping up economies. If the answers are really to meet the challenges, women and local women’s rights organisations should not only sit at the table when decisions are made, but should also actively participate in building this table.

3. Fair pay is not a marginal issue.

Working from home, stocking up on supplies or washing your hands regularly? This is simply not possible for women farm workers, who are already paid less than men for the same work, often earn too little, live from hand to mouth and often have no access to (clean) water.

Dismissals and reduced working hours have become a particular threat to existence during the pandemic. The textile industry in Bangladesh, for example, shows that women in particular face an existential threat. The cancellation of orders by textile companies puts jobs and thus the livelihoods of garment workers, and women in particular, at risk.

Recognition and appreciation for essential professions and carers is important - but what is needed is adequate pay and safe working conditions for all workers – many of whom are now holding up our world – during the crisis, but above all in the long term.

4. Health and health care are not tradable commodities.

Especially for people who live in fragile states or in confined spaces, the risk of infection and serious or fatal illness is particularly high due to inadequate medical care. This is particularly evident in the Moria refugee camp, where a single toilet is sometimes used by over 150 people and where there is often no soap or the water supply is interrupted. The lack of (clean) water is also a bitter reality in other parts of the world. The equation is as simple as it is cruel: no clean water, no health.

Equal access to medicines, preventive protective measures or medical treatment must be ensured for all, and not only a select circle of wealthy people.

5. We can’t afford to lose sight of human rights, gender justice and environmental protection.

Even in times of COVID-19, politicians must not lose sight of their other responsibilities on human rights and environmental protection.

The answers to COVID-19 must not lose track of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the pandemic, the climate crisis has taken the back seat. Individual voices in politics and industry are already calling for existing environmental protection measures to be reversed for their own benefit. That would be a step in the wrong direction. The crisis requires sustainable answers. These also include strengthening global social and healthcare systems and gender-equitable social security systems that address specific risks for women.

Social and gender inequality is a core issue and has to be tackled now. Governments must not forget this in their political decisions to contain the virus. And if they do, we must stand together and remind them, wherever and whenever necessary.

This post is an translated and adapted version of the original, published on the Oxfam Germany website.

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Ideas for a Pro-Poor and Pro-Women Approach to COVID-19

Photo credit: Jed Regala/Oxfam

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic with 114 countries affected and more than 4,000 people dead as a result of the coronavirus. The Philippines is among those countries and the Philippine government, foremost the Department of Health, has issued various guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the test kit developed by the University of the Philippines and this could hasten and improve the tracking and monitoring of persons who might have been exposed to the virus, thus leading to the treatment of patients. Information on self-quarantine or isolation, social distancing, working from home and lockdowns are being spread through various communication channels. As with any crisis, local governments are taking action and are rightly at the forefront.

But as with any humanitarian situation, the approach tends to overlook how inequality plays out and how the crisis has a different and worse impact on poor people, especially poor women. Anyone can be exposed to the virus. But the poor are most vulnerable because they do not have the means to cope on their own. They are the majority users of jam-packed MRTs, buses, and jeepneys where social distancing will be next to impossible, and are dependent on public health systems that are often overwhelmed in normal times, let alone in a crisis. Poor workers, especially those dependent on a daily wage ─ isang kahig, isang tuka (work for a day, eat for a day) ─ would not be able to afford to miss work. An ER nurse had posted a story about someone running away because he did not want to be forced to go on sick leave. But at some point, businesses will likely have to slow down or close temporarily, leaving workers empty handed with even lesser means to buy food and medicine. Meanwhile, urban poor homes and communities are also going to be the places where disease can spread easily and quickly.

As with any crisis, the responsibility of caring for the family and making both ends meet grow heavier on the shoulders of women, including elderly women who, by social norm and by convenience, often take care of the family while the younger ones go to work. Women’s multiple burdens of needing to contribute to the household income while also taking care of the young, the elderly and the sick mean women have the longest days, the shortest rest and the highest stress, making them easy targets of disease. Even if they do manage to stay healthy, their conditions require special attention and action.


What can local governments do?

Local governments are rooted in the context of their communities. At the same time, they are the interlocutors for local community concerns with national government. While COVID-19 cases have not yet peaked in the Philippines, there is plenty that local governments can do to address COVID-19 in a way that is pro-poor and pro-women. Government needs to develop an approach that relies on whole-of-government and whole-of-society strategies. While its bias is towards the poor and women, we are all in this public health situation together, and thus must work as one. A very initial thinking on a pro-poor, pro-women COVID-19 approach has raised the following ideas to see which ones can be done immediately in partnership with other stakeholders such as civil society and business.


These include:

Information Campaigns

  • Massive health information campaigns in urban poor communities in a language, formats and channels that they understand and trust
  • Keep two-way communication channels open and working. Follow up to see if there are questions and concerns and provide a channel for them to feedback to the local government that, in turn, must promptly address those questions and concerns
  • Partner with community-based organizations and other civil society groups to provide neighbors with information on preventive measures and where to go if someone in the community falls ill
  • A specific message on lockdowns — because this causes fear and panic which do not help

Public Health Measures

  • Prioritize screening, monitoring and treatment for urban poor communities. As usual, those who have the means will tend to hog health resources, leaving others in the margins

  • Partner with employers and business owners on workplace public health measures such as the provision of hand sanitizers, soap and water

  • Extend sanitation measures to public places such as wet markets, tricycle terminals and all other public transport facilities

  • Continue to work with and get support from the national government on stringent screening, vigilant identification of primary and secondary contacts in the case of exposure, and quarantine for primary exposure at government health centres

  • Plan local government support for mandatory home quarantine for secondary exposure. The police and the local health authorities can work together to monitor home quarantines on a regular basis and report information so health and contingency responses can be coordinated

  • Ensure a complete ban on non-essential gatherings and events

  • Ensure essential facilities in local government hospitals. Get the cooperation of private hospitals

  • Lessons from other countries that have managed similar and even worse epidemics show that local governments did not just rely on domestic or national government-led research and protocols. They also explored opportunities to collaborate with international agencies. The international donor community in the Philippines may be able to provide a network of contacts as well as financing for public health as well as other measures to contain the spread of the disease and respond to the economic and social impact of COVID-19

Social Protection Measures

  • COVID-19 requires not just public health measures but also policies and programs to address impacts that will worsen inequality and poverty factors that drive vulnerability. Social protection should address workplace and labor concerns, diminish people's exposure to risks and enhance their capacity to manage health, economic and social risks such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age

  • Paid sick leave and a guaranteed basic income for all shift/day workers to incentivize testing and reporting. Ensure job security despite absence from work due to COVID-19. Loss of daily income is a big disincentive. Anecdotal information points out that those who have financial security get themselves tested, which is why the first detected cases were patients that came through private hospitals

  • Find a way to provide financial assistance to those who need to self- isolate, e.g. cash transfers, cash for work

  • Clamp down on profiteering and hoarding. Partner with supermarkets and sellers to put a limit on the purchase of essential sanitation and food items

  • Support for informal workers such as sidewalk vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers, wet marker sellers and others, is a challenge. Find ways to get them to participate in discussions and suggest measures. There is probably a role for cooperatives and self-help associations.

Women & Gender

  • A special social protection program to support women who are single parents or are the main breadwinners is needed

  • Work with businesses and issue a policy on paid dependency leaves so women who need to miss work to care for a sick family member do not need to be placed in an impossible situation of choosing between a job and caring for family members dependent on them

  • When implementing cash transfers, ensure that women-headed households are prioritized

  • Cash-for-work schemes almost always exclude women who cannot leave home because of care work. It is time to recognize that care work is work and has economic value. Include stay-at-home women in cash-for-work schemes. There are existing pilot projects (by Oxfam and partners) with methodologies and calculations that might help. These can then be modified and adapted to the particular LGU context

Working with Business

  • Discuss ways to ensure business continuity measures to keep small and medium-sized businesses afloat as much as possible

  • Explore ways to provide business owners with tax or debt relief as an incentive for them to provide workplace public health measures and support their workers with paid sick leave and guaranteed basic income

  • Initiate a corporate social responsibility partnership program with large businesses so they can contribute positively to the COVID-19 response

Government needs to develop an approach that relies on whole-of-government and whole-of-society strategies. While its bias is towards the poor and women, we are all in this public health situation together and thus must work as one.

  • Despite the release of a government resolution, clarity remains lacking and it appears that specific guidelines are still being developed.  The Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases issued Resolution No. 11 on 12 March 2020. It raised the alert level for COVID-19 to Code Red Sublevel 2, imposing community quarantines in the entirety of Metro Manila if there are at least 2 positive cases each at barangay, municipal and provincial levels. Quarantines will be implemented by a cabinet cluster through lockdowns that Pres. Duterte will initiate.  “Mass gatherings” are disallowed and disobedience “is punishable under the penal code.” Violators can be arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who have been tasked to ensure the effective implementation of the measures and maintain order in the event of a social disturbance

  • However, a subsequent press release from the president’s spokesperson said that “the government is essentially calling for a stricter implementation of preventive measures in order to slow down and put a halt to the further spread of COVID-19. While a total and absolute lockdown is considered by some as a valid preventive measure, current circumstances do not warrant such an extreme course of action.” So, it’s unclear what the resolution really means. Yet, troop movements were sighted on the same evening of the resolution’s release

  • The lack of clarity aside, contingency plans in the event of a lockdown should include the prepositioning of medicines, food packs and water. Negotiate with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and other agencies as well as with corporate partners for supplies. This is where partnerships with local business can come in as part of their corporate social responsibility 

  • Quickly train and partner with community-based organizations for the safe delivery of food and non-food items

  • Engage and input into the development of specific guidelines to ensure their appropriateness to the needs and welfare of quarantined communities

The Role of the Police & Military During Community Quarantines and Lockdowns

  • It’s not uncommon for the police and the military to be involved in crisis management including humanitarian situations. But the performance of their task should be defined and rooted in the protection of human rights. The right to life, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and other absolute rights must be upheld and protected under any circumstance, even in COVID-19 lockdowns. Government has to issue a clear and strong justification for derogating certain rights, and specify the time period. This must be clearly communicated and understood by the public

  • Simply having an order to effectively implement a lockdown does not automatically give the police and the military the necessary guidance on how to perform their task in line with the protection of human rights. Clear, context-specific guidelines from local and national governments are needed alongside to ensure the commitment and adherence to human rights in the time of COVID-19. Mandates for civilian and military actors must be clearly defined and made public so that their accountability is clear

  • Given the swathe of tokhang (anti-drug campaign-related) killings across urban poor communities, trust for police is generally low. Local level mechanisms for monitoring and reporting human rights violations need to be put in place and violators must face consequences. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has a role to support LGUs and monitor and act on these reports

  • The involvement of the police and the military should not hinder the neutral and impartial provision of humanitarian assistance to quarantined communities. The government must not direct and use them to pursue its political objectives

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Recovering Post-ISIS: What it's like to be a woman in Mayadin, Syria

By Aline Yacoubian, EFSVL Policy Officer, Oxfam in Syria

This is to all men, women and children fighting for survival.

Two years after the ousting of ISIS from Mayadin, east of Deir ez-Zor in Syria, the situation is dire. As I travelled through the town, I couldn’t fail to notice the devastating impact of the conflict. The intense fighting has left it in in total ruin. Among the shattered buildings, destroyed water and electricity infrastructure and broken streets – you can sense life is slowly returning. Hanging laundry lines amid rubble and ash, poorly stocked shops opened in the remains of buildings and children playing with whatever makeshift toys available, from empty tin cans to metal pieces left behind.

Mayadin witnessed a major turn of events as ISIS grasped control over the town in mid-2014, making it their ‘safe haven’ and financial capital. For three years, people in Mayadin lived under ISIS’s rule of terror. Though thousands fled from Mayadin, some people could not escape. I stood in the middle of what once was the second most populous town in Deir Ezzor and sensed the emptiness. Before ISIS, Mayadin was known for its agricultural production, filled with vast acres of fertile, green lands and rich livestock. Located on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Mayadin was once the breadbasket of nearby towns and it thrived on its wealthy agro-economy.

But all that changed under ISIS, particularly for the women there. They were forced to stop school and work. Hawra* is among the many women who was forced to quit school and marry. “I had a real passion for education. I had big dreams of becoming a nurse. Now, I channel that passion into growing our garden’s orange trees. That’s all I have left,” Hawra told me.

Hawra, working on her family’s farmland in Mayadin’s Anneba, rural Deir Ez-Zor. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

The constant fighting under ISIS and continuous bombardments paralyzed the productive economic sectors of Mayadin, with burnt agricultural lands and demolished irrigation channels. Combined with drought, water has become scarce, and safe, clean water has become a commodity. Two years after ISIS, there has been some improvement. Agriculture production is slowly gaining momentum, but the farming communities in the town remain distressed. Mayadin inhabitants are at the brink of food insecurity due to dwindling production, shortage of functional bakeries, and high food prices.

The destroyed waste management systems have further added to the struggle, with serious health concerns on the rise, such as Leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by a microscopic parasite spread by sand flies, widespread in Mayadin today. Medical facilities are almost non-existent, and access to healthcare has become rather impossible. Khansa, a 34-year old woman shared her story of how expensive healthcare has become as most inhabitants, who must travel to the city of Deir Ezzor, around 40 kilometres, to access medical services. “Travelling to and from Deir Ezzor city costs around 3,000 SYP (approx. USD $3), and the doctors charge around 2,000 SYP for a regular check-up. I don’t have that kind of money, so I only prioritize my son’s doctor visits,” she explained. Khansa used to work on her family’s farmland. Their land was destroyed under ISIS. Today, only a small portion of their land is suitable for farming. “We live off of debts throughout the year and pay them off during the agricultural seasons when we sell our produce,” she continued.

Khansa, 34, stands in her family’s farmland in rural Deir ez-Zor, holding her son. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Conversations with women in Mayadin were bittersweet. Bitter to hear what they went through. Sweet to hear how they made it and their willingness to survive. These women are very resilient. “You are probably wondering how I am still smiling. This is what makes me want to fight for life,” said one woman, carrying her 10-day old baby wrapped in wool blankets to protect from the cold.

Despite the hardships, I sensed the women’s urge to rebuild their lives. Though living in Mayadin has become a game of survival, its women have become warriors. Of all the stories heard, the most beautiful are the stories of persistence. You can see it on their faces – these women can turn tides. They don’t give up, they pull through despite everything. They believe in second chances and silver linings.

#9YearsofWar

*Name changed to protect identity.

International Women’s Day: How Oxfam is helping to redress the political gender imbalance in Malawi

March 8th is International Women's Day – and at Oxfam, we believe that gender equality means more than giving women and girls the same opportunities to learn and earn as men. It also means ensuring that more women are in leadership roles and encouraging more women to become politicians.

In 2018, we launched the 50:50 Elect Her campaign in Malawi to increase the number of women going into politics. We profiled female MPs in the media to inspire more women to get involved in political life and we visited their constituencies to bring our campaign messages to their communities.

Oxfam’s Lingalireni Mihowa (left) presents bikes to gender activists. Photo: Oxfam in Malawi

We provided volunteers with information on gender laws, kitted them out with bags and clothes branded with our messaging, and gave them bicycles so they could spread the word. All of this led to the first-ever Malawi Women’s Manifesto, media campaigns that reached one million people and community awareness campaigns involving 20,000 participants.

More women stood for positions than ever before, with 310 women contesting Malawi’s 2019 election, up from 261 in 2014. More than three-quarters of constituencies had a female candidate for parliament.

The visibility provided by the Elect Her campaign improved women’s chances of being elected and delivered big gains – last year, 23 percent of MPs elected in Malawi were women, up from 16.5 percent in the 2014 election. Malawi’s parliament elected its first woman speaker, while 25 percent of ministerial portfolios are now in the hands of women – up from 20 percent.

Honourable Shanil Dzimbiri with Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken and Oxfam Ireland Board member Dr Mary Murphy dance during the Elect Her community campaign to increase the political representation of women in Malawi. Photo: Oxfam in Malawi

Meanwhile, in the local elections, 669 women stood as councillors in 2019, compared to 419 in 2014. Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, elected its first female mayor, and 67 women were elected out of a total 456 councillors. Out of 36 councils, six women were picked to be council chairs and 10 as vice chairs.

Such enormous institutional changes reflect real impact and progress towards achieving gender equality.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go.

While more women in politics is an important achievement, to fully succeed it must be accompanied by policies that deliver real behavioural change in those same institutions and in wider society.

But the successes of 50:50 Elect Her gives much cause for optimism that, with your support and those of our partners, we can beat poverty and injustice for good.

So, this International Women's Day let’s take a moment to celebrate the strides we have made together in the fight for equality.

Read our submission to the Citizens’ Assembly here

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