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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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More talk, still not enough real action on climate change

By Joanne O’Connor, Content Executive with Oxfam Ireland and MSc in Climate Change student 

22 April 2021

For anyone with even a passing interest in the biggest threat facing our planet, this week is big.

Today, US President Joe Biden will host world leaders for the first of a two-day virtual Earth Day Summit, during which countries will be expected to make new commitments on emissions reductions. Ireland, which was not on the original guest list, has since made the cut because of its scaled-up climate targets and support of developing countries with their resilience efforts.

The optimist in me hopes we’re at a turning point. The cynic in me has seen all this before. After all, it seems like only a couple of glaciers ago that we witnessed the fanfare the 2015 Paris Agreement and the countries of the world uniting to address one common problem.

What’s happened since? Well, recent news from the UN makes for depressing reading. It reported that new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs (countries’ efforts to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change) for 75 of the Agreement’s signatories found that the changes in their actual emissions would be small, despite their pledges.

Not small – tiny. The changes made by these countries would result in less than a one percent emissions reduction in 2030 compared to 2010. To meet the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Agreement, they should be around 45 percent lower in 2030. Just a 44 percent shortfall, then. (To clarify, the NDCs in this report account for 30 percent of emissions worldwide. So, not all emissions but the findings are still significant.)

Photo: Marcin Jozwiak/Unsplash

Forgive the cliché but we really are at a crossroads now.

Take it from someone who remembers all the panic about the hole in the ozone layer back in the 1980s. The damage to the layer, which protects us from harmful UV radiation, was caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – chemicals used in aerosol cans and fridges. As a result, the threat of skin cancer was never far away, albeit never quite close enough to make us wear sunscreen.

In 1987, world leaders did something quite shocking – they acted. They signed the Montreal Protocol, uniting to reduce the use of CFCs. Just three years later, they agreed that CFCs would be phased out completely by 2000.

And the commitments made in 1987 and 1990 weren’t meaningless – they actually worked. In 2019, NASA reported that the “ozone hole” had shrunk to a record low.

I was naïve enough to think that world leaders would do something similar about global warming. Act, not just talk. Because there’s been a lot of talk – at hearings, conferences and summits. Now, more than 30 years since climate scientist James Hansen told a US congressional hearing that he could say “with 99% confidence” that global temperature rise was due to human activity, politicians are still talking.

Even as President Biden meets with other world leaders over the next two days, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, contributing to the rise in the average global temperature. If they don’t take radical, drastic action now, the consequences will be dire.

Coincidentally, it was British scientist James Lovelock who first noticed high levels of CFCs in the atmosphere in the 1960s. The father of the Gaia Theory, the concept that life on Earth is a self-regulating community of organisms interacting with each other and their surroundings, has a worrying take on where we’re all headed.

In his 2009 book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, Lovelock writes that ‘global heating’, as he calls it, doesn’t mean linear changes in temperature, but sudden abrupt shifts. These abrupt changes alongside an increasing global population, Lovelock says, will do irreversible damage to large swathes of the planet. Only a few ‘lifeboats for humanity’ would survive, including countries like Ireland, the UK, Japan, Tasmania and New Zealand. Scandinavia will also be spared. Lovelock believes that while we should do what we can to cut emissions, it’s time to think about adaptation.

Others, however, argue that it’s not too late to turn this ship around. One of those people is climate scientist Michael E. Mann, the co-author of the “hockey-stick graph” in 1999, which showed the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial age – and the clearest evidence of the link between human emissions and global warming. Mann insists that doom-mongering, which has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic, poses a major threat to climate action.

Fatalism, therefore, is not the answer. We just have to take urgent action to protect our planet – and ourselves.

Now, could somebody please talk to the politicians?

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Fashion Relief Donation Drive - we want your pre-loved gems

Join Brendan Courtney in supporting Fashion Relief with Lorraine Keane.

It’s almost the spring – according to the calendar, anyway. So, if you’re at home, looking around the office-gym formerly known as your bedroom and wondering where all that clutter came from, you’re not alone.

And better still, help is on the way!

Style guru and TV presenter Brendan Courtney is teaming up with broadcaster Lorraine Keane for a donation drive in aid of Fashion Relief, Lorraine’s sustainable fashion fundraiser with Oxfam Ireland.

It’s your chance to spring-clean your home while raising money to support Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries.

"The evenings are getting longer, and our homes are probably starting to feel a little more cluttered as, let's face it, we are all spending a lot of time in them these days, so why not start your spring-clean early and send your pre-loved gems over to us at Fashion Relief."

“People can donate up to 12 items at a time. When they let us know that they would like to donate, we will send a pre-paid and addressed donation bag out to them. Once their donations are packaged up all they need to do is bring them to their local post office and they will be winging their way to us at Fashion Relief.” - Lorraine

Fashion Relief started in 2018 when Lorraine teamed up with Oxfam Ireland to organise a series of live events. Since then, the fundraiser has raised almost €270,000 for Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. 

It’s also part of Oxfam’s solution to ‘throwaway fashion’, encouraging people to donate pre-loved items rather than binning them. Retailers are also supported to donate their end-of-line or excess stock instead of sending it to landfill – a more sustainable solution for people and planet.

"What better way to start a journey to a more sustainable lifestyle, than with the clothes we wear."

"By donating items to Fashion Relief, you are reducing the amount of clothes and textiles that end up in landfill and giving pre-loved clothes a second lease of life, while also supporting people experiencing poverty and disaster." - Brendan

“When Covid-19 resulted in the postponement of the 2020 events, Fashion Relief pivoted to an online shopping platform with the help of Irish tech firm Axonista. Now we are pivoting to Instagram and the fashionistas of Ireland to ensure we can continue to offer people unique fashion finds at discounted prices. 

“This is our own little Fashion Relief circular economy – as long as people continue to donate fabulous items, we will continue to have fabulous bargains up for grabs.” - Lorraine

The profits from Fashion Relief support Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive as well as saving lives when disaster strikes.

If you have any items you’d like to donate to Fashion Relief’s donation drive, contact Aisling at aisling.wallace@oxfam.org to arrange for delivery of your donation bag.

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Crisis upon crisis: Families in Yemen forced into debt to pay for food and medicine

Almost six years of war has pushed Yemen to the brink. Thousands have been killed, millions displaced and the country's infrastructure has been devastated. 

With the economy shattered, food prices skyrocketing and huge levels of unemployment, it has emerged that almost 40 percent of families are using debt to buy food and medicines. 

New research by Oxfam has revealed that families say they can’t borrow the money they need for essentials unless shopkeepers know they have a monthly income. For many, this means the cash transfers they receive from humanitarian agencies. 

Shopkeepers estimate that the number of families using debt to buy food has risen by 62 percent since the conflict started, while pharmacists estimate an increase of 44 percent in debt being used to purchase medicines.

Hind Qassem* with her 10 children in their temporary tent. Photo: Ahmed Al-Fadeel/Oxfam

Hind Qassem*, 45, was pregnant with her tenth child when her husband was killed by an artillery shell, forcing her to flee with her children.  At first, they lived under a plastic sheet, relying on leftovers given by neighbouring families. Three of her sons suffer from sickle cell anaemia and need blood transfusions every month.

“Now, I receive YER 45,000 (around US$70) every month," she said. "Yes, it is not enough to cover all our needs but it helps a lot. I am now able to pay for my children’s treatment and buy some flour and vegetables for us to eat. Shops will now allow us to buy food on credit because we are receiving monthly assistance."

Many families who are struggling with debt say that they are living permanently in arrears - using their transfer to pay off what they owe and then run up more debt as they wait for their next aid payment. 

Last year, donors only provided half of the aid money needed for the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. With the 2021 UN humanitarian need budget for Yemen due imminently, Oxfam is urging the international community to be generous when pledging funds. 

Ibrahim Alwazir, who carried out the research for Oxfam, said: “To struggle this hard to be able to provide food and medicine for one's family is an avoidable hardship that millions have to overcome on a daily basis. We need peace so no more Yemenis are forced to flee their homes and live in poverty.

“Peace will allow people to rebuild their lives and businesses, but we need support to help communities to do that. This war has turned my country into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and it’s only getting worse. We all just want to get back to normal life.”  

Some 24.3 million Yemenis, over 53 per cent of the population, currently need humanitarian assistance. This year, 16.2 million Yemenis will rely on food aid to survive, with 17.9 million lacking access to healthcare in a country where only half of health facilities are fully functional.

It is estimated that in parts of Yemen one in five children are severely malnourished and will grow up with life-long medical conditions if they do not get more food.

Oxfam, along with other agencies in Yemen, provides support for struggling families in the form of cash transfers which allows people to choose what they buy and helps stimulate local markets.

Grocery store owner Abdulkareem Salaeh said: "We are left with no choice [but to offer credit]. People are desperate, and we are struggling to keep the business going. While some are able to pay, others can't and that's a problem.

"We only agree to lend people with a reliable source of income, like employees, business owners, daily wage labourers or those receiving humanitarian aid, else it will be a loss that we can't afford. We are barely able to cover operational costs and the costs of goods we sell. It's unfortunate!"

Oxfam staff distribute hygiene kits in Alkoba camp, Taiz. Photo: Hitham Ahmed/Oxfam

Oxfam been on the ground in Yemen since 2015, helping more than 3 million people in nine governorates with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and food vouchers. 

We’ve provided clean water and sanitation to more than one million people, including in hard-to-reach areas of the country, through providing water by truck, repairing water systems, delivering filters and jerry cans, as well as building latrines and organising cleaning campaigns.

To help combat Covid-19, we’re also supporting the healthcare system with hygiene equipment, hospital supplies and mobile services for rural areas. We’ve been able to provide the health authorities in Amran governorate, northern Yemen, with five mobile health centres, as well as oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, PPE and fuel to help with the running of generators.

*Name changed

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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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