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“It is not easy to live in isolation” – the women caught up in DRC’s Ebola crisis

Ebola has claimed more than 1,400 lives across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since August of last year. The most recent figures from the World Health Organisation show the total number of cases at almost 2,100, while the outbreak – the second largest in history – has also spread to neighbouring Uganda.

Oxfam was one of the first agencies to respond to the crisis in conflict-ridden DRC by providing clean, safe water and working with community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent the virus, and to dispel people’s myths and fears. So far, we’ve reached 138,000 people across the country.

Yvette* carries one of the children on her back. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam. *Name changed

In Mangina, mother-of-seven Yvette* now cares for 10 children. Ebola claimed the life of her neighbour, so Yvette looks after the three orphaned children as well as her own family.

“She was only 35 and died at the beginning of the outbreak,” says Yvette. “Her children are like mine. The little girl fell sick after the death of her mother, her eyes are inflamed.”

For Yvette, the good news is that the children are on a vaccination list – they are currently waiting for a medical team to visit. In the meantime, she says that she feels isolated, adding: “The community is afraid of us.”

Elsewhere, mother-of-two Judith, who works as a primary school teacher, also found herself isolated as a result of Ebola.

 

Judith in her classroom. Photo: Alain Nking/Oxfam

Judith was quarantined for 21 days after the director of her school died of the virus. She says: “During my isolation, I felt like I was going to die at any moment. It is not easy to live in isolation and to always think that you may be carrying the dangerous and deadly disease that killed my director.”

Even when Judith eventually returned to work, she found a mostly empty classroom.

“Many parents became afraid after the death of the director,” she explains. “They think that their children could be infected by the virus in the school and especially in my contact. Many of them have not passed their final exams.”

Oxfam travelled to Judith’s school to give lessons on hygiene and install water points. Our staff also built an area where pupils and teachers who feel unwell could check their temperature and rest while waiting for transfer to a health centre.

“The Oxfam team came to my house to give me some food,” Judith adds. “The kit really helped my reintegration. When people saw Oxfam vehicles and agents coming to my house, the whole avenue came to see what was going on.

“When Oxfam left, the neighbours stayed at my house all night. It was the first time in a long time that I saw people in my home. It was a real joy for me.”

Ebola has already destroyed lives in DRC and Uganda – and millions more are at risk. Oxfam is working hard to prevent the spread of the virus by distributing clean, safe water and teaching communities about the importance of hygiene. 

*Name changed to protect identity

How we’re working to prevent abuse, protect and empower people

A message from Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, Jim Clarken

In Ghana, mother-of-two Christina grows maize to earn a living. She is one of the many female farmers in her community being trained by Oxfam to overcome challenges such as climate change. Learning new farming techniques ensures that Christina can continue to provide for her children and enable them to live a life free from poverty.Photo: Nana Kofi Acquah/Oxfam 

In my ten years at Oxfam Ireland, I have seen first-hand the incredible impact of our supporter’s generosity. From our live-saving work in times of hunger, drought, disaster and conflict to our long-term development programmes that help people lift themselves out of poverty as well as advocacy that tackles the injustices that keep people poor.  

None of this important work would be possible without a movement of people across the island of Ireland who donate, shop, volunteer and speak out with us. We’re so grateful.

We know that in supporting us, you’re trusting us to deliver programmes that put people’s safety and dignity at its core. We take that seriously and are continually working to strengthen our safeguarding systems, improve our culture and protect and empower people.

To ensure we are the best we can be, we launched a comprehensive action plan in February 2018 to review and update our safeguarding systems across the global confederation.

As part of this, we established an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct led by international women’s rights experts and asked them to hold us to the highest standards in reviewing all aspects of our safeguarding policies and practices.  

We welcome the findings in their final report and are ready to implement their recommendations, many of which we’ve already acted on. We are galvanised by the Commission’s positive acknowledgement of our progress to date and are more determined than ever to play a leadership role in safeguarding.

We have worked hard to improve our policies and procedures and build a positive culture in a global and diverse organisation.   

In Oxfam Ireland, we have created a designated safeguarding team to support staff and volunteers; completed an all-staff survey on culture and delivered workshops on our values. As part of the international organisation, we have increased budget, resources and staff to drive culture change across the entire confederation; introduced new policies on child safeguarding, protection, sexual diversity, and ethical content gathering and reformed our HR systems to strengthen our referencing processes and better recruit and train staff and volunteers with a greater focus on behaviours, culture and safeguarding.

And we won’t stop there. 

It is our priority to ensure that our staff, volunteers, partners and those we serve are safe and valued and we will not tolerate abuse of any kind in our workplace or programmes. 

We will continue to implement and champion policies and procedures in line with national and international best practice and create a culture where everyone feels safe, respected and empowered.

As always, we remain dedicated to making a positive impact on the lives of millions of people every year. We will not let the deplorable behaviour of a few stand in the way of our work to beat poverty, save lives when disaster strikes and end the injustices that trap people in poverty.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with us. 

To read more about Oxfam’s progress against its comprehensive action plan on safeguarding, visit: oxfamireland.org/impact

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G20 Finance Ministers discusstax reforms

 
G20 Finance Ministers are expected to give the green light to a new round of negotiations on international tax reforms at a meeting in Fukuoka, Japan on 8 - 9 June, 2019, in line with OECD recommendations issued in May. 
 
For the first time countries will debate proposals for fundamental reforms such as where a companies’ profits are taxed and whether to set a global minimum effective corporate tax rate.
 
Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said:
 
“This new round of global tax negotiations offers a unique chance to put a stop to corporate tax dodging and damaging tax competition. If they get it right this could mark the beginning of a new fairer tax era where poor countries are able to claim their fair share of corporate tax revenues – and release the funds they need to tackle poverty and inequality. Governments must not waste this opportunity.
 
“The UN has said that developing countries lose around $100 billion each year as a result of global corporate tax avoidance. This shortfall leaves developing countries without the revenue to provide the vital healthcare, education and infrastructure needed to tackle poverty and inequality.  Women and girls are most effected by the lack of these services, as recently highlighted by a European Parliament report on taxation policies and gender equality.
 
“If we look at Ireland, our corporate tax rate has attracted international investment that generates much-needed jobs and prosperity. However, the parallel system of tax loopholes needs to be reformed because of the knock-on effect that it has on some of the poorest communities in the world.
 
“A global consensus has seen efforts to reform the global tax system take place at the OECD, where Ireland also participates. G20 Finance Ministers need to take the opportunity this weekend to get behind reforms that will usher in a new corporate tax era.”
 
ENDS 
 
CONTACT: Nyle Lennon, nyle.lennon@oxfam.org,   083 197 5107.
 
Notes to editors
 
An Oxfam briefing note - 'Tax Revolution?' -  which provides more details on the negotiations and what is at stake is available on request.

Money does grow on trees for Rwanda’s cassava producers

Although women in Rwanda do most of the work on family farms, there was a time when they had very little control over the sale of crops or any money made at market. In recent years, however, women are breaking new ground in farming and food production – and lifting themselves out of poverty in the process.
 
One of those women is mother-of-three Madeleine, who sometimes struggled to feed her children and send them to school. The 40-year-old single parent grew potatoes and beans which she used to feed her family and sold the rest at the market. But her crops were sometimes destroyed by pests, leaving her without enough money to buy the basics.  
 
Madeleine harvests cassava leaves from her farm. Photo: Eleanor Farmer
 
“When you are a single parent, it is hard to feed your children,” says Madeleine, whose husband was imprisoned in 1997 and never returned. “One child this side can ask for school materials, when you don’t have money you become anxious. It is hard for a single parent to provide everything.” 
 
Then she heard about SHEKINA Enterprises, an Oxfam-supported co-operative in northern Rwanda which dries cassava leaves for export to Belgium, Canada, Sweden, the US and the UK. Although Madeleine had cassava trees growing on her land, she never thought about harvesting the leaves and usually threw them away. When she heard that you could sell cassava as a business, she was surprised and a little skeptical.
 
Then Madeleine received her first payment from the co-op. “I felt like I was dreaming,” she says. “I took it and said to myself, ‘Let me buy a hen so that I can have some eggs to sell and buy salt (household items)’.” She also decided there and then to expand her cassava crop from just 20 trees to more than 500.
 
Madeleine and her children, 10-year-old Denyne* and five-year-old Mytoni* with their cousin Irakoze*, also aged five. Photo: Eleanor Farmer. *Names changed  
 
Madeleine’s life has been transformed since that first transaction with SHEKINA. “Within three months, I harvested and made money, and out of it I took 30,000 RWF (€30/£26) and saved it with SACCO (the Savings and Credit Co-operative),” she explains. “I continued saving that amount until I achieved the goal that I had set.
 
“Before my life was all about sitting, feeling lonely and worrying about the future. But since I started to sell cassava leaves, I am fine… The ambitions I have for my children are that my younger children could pursue their studies, have good marks and go to advanced level.”
 
Another woman who has benefitted from SHEKINA’s presence in Rulindo District is Uwera, who used to rely on her mother for financial support. She got a job with the co-op and now works on production three days a week and collects cassava leaves from the farmers on the other two days.
 
SHEKINA employee Uwera Gisele is saving money to study business agriculture. Photo: Eleanor Farmer
 
“I like dealing with the farmers – it’s social. I tell them all the good things about cassava leaves. That’s a big part of my job. I am happy with everything,” says Uwera, 22. However, the most important thing for her is earning a salary.
 
She recently bought a cow but plans to use the rest of the money she is saving to go to college. “I want to study business agriculture,” says Uwera. “After studying I would have enough skills to set up my own business. Even if I could only employ two people, I would be happy.”

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Breaking Gender Stereotypes in Zimbabwe

In rural Zimbabwe, where less than half the people have access to safe drinking water, traditionally it is the women who are responsible for collecting clean water for the home. This often involves long walks to a water source, with many of the women having to carry heavy buckets on their heads.  
 
These hours spent walking in search of water eat into the precious time that women can spend doing other things such as earning a wage, getting involved in activities in their communities or spending time with their friends and family.   
 
One woman breaking traditional gender barriers in the country is Takudzwa, an Oxfam water engineer. She has installed a solar-powered water system to deliver clean, safe water closer to the homes of the women in her community, changing their lives for the better. The new system in Masvingo District, which is funded by Oxfam, will supply water to many families in the area as well as a school and a clinic. 
 
Oxfam WASH (Water and Sanitation for Health) engineer Takudzwa at the Oxfam-funded solar piped water system in Somertone village, Masvingo District. Photo: Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville / Oxfam 
 
The 33-year-old mother is proud to work on Oxfam’s water and sanitation projects because she understands that access to clean water is vital to the survival of communities in her country. 
 
Yet despite doing a job that she finds rewarding, Takudzwa says that her decision to become an engineer wasn’t welcomed by everyone in her family.    
 
“My grandma almost came to tears to say, ‘Oh why are you choosing a male profession? What’s wrong with you, my granddaughter?’ But because it’s something that I really wanted, I had to take up the challenge, said Takudzwa, who was the only girl in her engineering class.” 
 
Takudzwa working water system in her community. Photo: Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville / Oxfam 
 
“I love water,” Takudzwa added. “There are so many things that have to be done. Having to come up with so many interventions so that we can always, at all times, have water, that is safe for drinking, that is in good quantities for the population that needs the water.” 
 
Takudzwa with her one-year-old son at her parents’ home in Masvingo before heading out into the field to see the solar-powered water system. Photo: Aurelie Marrier D'Unienville / Oxfam 
 
Delivering clean water to rural communities is only part of the work being carried out in Zimbabwe, where Oxfam has been working for almost 60 years. Through our WE-Care programme, we are also tackling the issue of women being left to do most of the household work, which is seen as being less important than paid labour. 
 
This water project also feeds into a larger programme, which is helping to bring about significant change across the country. The work is empowering women and supporting communities in Bubi, Zvishavane, Masvingo Rural and Gutu districts by installing 10 water points as well as 15 laundry facilities. 
 
This means that women will no longer have to travel such long distances to collect clean water or do their washing, ensure household work is shared equally between men and women and help women to have more free time so that they can take part in activities outside the home. 
 
The world will only improve if women expand their role as political, economic, family and social leaders. The cost of excluding women is well-recognised. Yet women bear the biggest burden of poverty, and most of those living in poverty are women. We work to advance women’s wellbeing and increase the benefits of the contributions that women and girls can make to societies and economies. The untapped contribution of women is a priority that we are working to correct by supporting organisations that focus on gender equality, legal reform and ending violence against women. 

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

We put women’s rights at the heart of everything we do. Join us today and be part of our movement to end the injustice of poverty. Sign up, and we’ll get you started with actions and opportunities that will equip you to change the world.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes in Zimbabwe

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