Women peacebuilders respond to COVID-19
Advising remote communities on how to protect themselves from COVID-19 and assisting women who are experiencing an increase in gender-based and domestic violence are a few of the ways that KAIROS’ Women of Courage: Women, Peace and Security partners are responding to the pandemic. They are also providing women with psychosocial and legal support via phone and online, and regularly checking in online with local women peacebuilders.
Indeed, as long-term peacebuilders in some of the most protracted conflicts, these partners are resilient and, for better or for worse, accustomed to responding to crisis in creative and resourceful ways.
KAIROS has been in regular communication with our global partners since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to support and accompany them in their outreach to vulnerable communities such as women, Indigenous peoples and human rights defenders. And they have sent us countless messages of solidarity and support. KAIROS has posted on its website initial messages from partners.
In the last few weeks, we have had the opportunity to participate in video conferences with four of our women, peace and security partners. We have heard about their current, rapidly changing contexts as well as how they are responding, by creatively adjusting and adapting their programs to reach marginalized women and to ensure that voices and concerns are heard in the context of this pandemic.
These partners are: The Organización Femenina Popular (OFP) in Colombia; Wi’am: Palestinian Centre for Conflict Transformation in the West Bank; Héritiers de la Justice (HJ) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); and South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) in South Sudan.
In Colombia and Palestine, partners are facing lockdown and quarantine and are working remotely, like in Canada. In South Sudan and DRC, partners go to their offices wearing masks and practicing social distancing to the best of their ability. Although our partners face different contexts and health directives, we are hearing emerging trends.
All partners report an increase in gender-based violence and domestic abuse. This includes militarized responses to the pandemic that have increased repression and human rights abuses. As a result, the need for psychosocial and legal support for women has increased.
Restrictions on the informal economy due to the virus have impacted women because for many it is their primary source of income. They have also been disproportionately affected by the increased food insecurity.
All partners report on the need for public awareness campaigns on COVID-19 and information on health directives, particularly in rural and marginalized communities. So, they have stepped in to fill that much needed gap.
Partners are adapting some workshops and training to respond to COVID-19 as well as looking at ways to migrate workshops and training on online. These trainings will involve training of women leaders to respond to COVID-19 including the psychosocial impacts and increases in gender-based violence, which partners have identified as a priority.
Wi’am is strengthening communication around the response to the pandemic to support health directives and counter misinformation and stigmatization. HJ will continue the production and hosting of the local weekly radio program “Tuitete Haki” (Swahili) / “Rights”, pivoting to address the COVID-19 pandemic public health directives. And SSCC’s existing radio talk shows will be used wherever possible to create awareness about COVID-19, gender justice, trauma healing as well as peace messaging broadcast in Juba Arabic and local languages from Juba, Malakal and Wau.
One of the OFP’s first actions was to use social media and messaging to form online support groups for women. They are working with community leaders to reach out to members and are providing psychosocial services via phone in high priority cases. Wi’am will also focus on psychosocial support, both individual and group based, as well as conflict mediation and transformation especially in relation to increases in gender-based violence. Wi’am plans to contract two psychologists and has set up a 24- hour hotline. HJ is continuing to provide psychosocial and legal support to women, adapting activities to respond to the current context.
Another key priority for partners in the current context is ongoing participation in networks and campaigns involving civil society and government. Much of this organizing is being done remotely.
The OFP continues to meet online with other civil society organizations and networks working on the implementation of the peace agreement, and advocacy efforts with local governments. Wi’am works with civil society networks, local authorities and the municipality in responding to the pandemic to ensure an effective and coherent response. SSCC continues to participate in existing networks, including the national Women Link, to increase reach and impact of messages regarding COVID-19 awareness and responding to increases in gender-based violence.
In June, a virtual South/South exchange with all WPS partners is planned on COVID-19 responses to share experience, strategies and learnings and to strengthen solidarity and capacity to respond.
Our partners are part of the fabric of communities, holding civil society together and building conditions for equitable and sustainable peace, even in the most difficult times. Their resilience as a result of strong networks and relations with women community leaders and groups, as well as their experience in psychosocial support and trauma healing, has allowed them to continue to reach marginalized women and ensure their voices and concerns are heard even in the context of the COVID-19 storm. Women peacebuilders also provide us with a glimmer of hope, a way forward when the world emerges from this crisis, one that is based on the well being, health, safely and peace for all.
You can support their efforts by making a donation to the KAIROS Women of Courage: Women, Peace and Security.
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