Recovering from the COVID-19 crisis: 10 lessons learned from a gender perspective

27 October 2020
Juliet Nakyanzi, CEO of GAAMAC partner Platform for Social Justice in Uganda reflects on the lessons learned from COVID-19 in terms of preventing mass atrocities from a gender perspective.

Women often find themselves at the center of mass atrocities either as victims, survivors or caregivers in any crisis. The combination of loss, prolonged stress and physical demands of caregiving, and biological vulnerabilities put women at greater risk for exposure during atrocities and pandemics.

This gender disparity has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and looking in retrospective, I would like to offer some reflections and recommendations to ensure that humanitarian aid fully embraces and mainstreams a gender perspective.

1. Ensuring good governance

Good governance is important for the effective running and administration of states and its programmes, in particular in ensuring that humanitarian aid goes to affected communities and to women who are the main socio-economic drivers. Positive commitments from the leadership to stand with women, community leaders are a sign of strong leadership.

Some of these positive commitments have also included boosting small businesses with initial capital to reopen, wavering accumulated interest loans during lockdown among others. These steps may appear small but create a strong foundation for rebuilding. Furthermore, some of these initiatives target small informal businesses, which are largely owned by vulnerable women, making it a positive step towards promoting economic development for women in crisis.

2. Strengthening Justice, Law and Order (JLOS) institutions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw governments introduce curfew measures to prevent criminals who would want to take advantage of the pandemic crisis. Some states have registered an increase in cases of domestic violence and sexual violence during the lockdown. The introduction of helplines, shelters, curfew and many other positive measures have contributed to curbing crime. These measures are largely enforced by JLOS institutions.

During this post-COVID-19, these institutions need to be strengthened as a watchdog to prevent society decay, especially in a crisis. Paralegals trained by Platform for Social Justice (PSJ) in Uganda were very active in assisting women who faced gender and sexual-based violence during the lockdown.

3. Building strong networks and partnerships

This post-COVID-19 period has emphasized the need for all citizens and government /agencies to play their part so as to restore order in or curb a growing pandemic. Establishing strong reliable networks or partnerships is very important. Strategic partnerships can attract contributions from forums such as political, social, economic, medical, legal, local government sectors, grassroots among others. The ability for all these sectors to unite in solidarity, be tolerant of each other and work together towards a common front makes for a strong force in the face of the crisis.

4. More transparency and accountability

During times of crisis, special attention needs to be given to identified vulnerable persons who are likely to suffer most and become victims or survivors. These are usually women, children, and the elderly. Relief supplies are often donated to these individuals and it is good practice for people to be involved in the process of distribution.

The public needs uncompromised information on how much was received; how was the target group identified; how much each household received; whether the goods supplied were fit for purpose etc. Failure to show victim participation or a clear breakdown of grants breeds mistrust and a sign of failure on the project. This failure can be a future recipe for disaster and conflict.

5. Provision of free relevant information to the public.

Free distribution of facts and information about an impending crisis is extremely important, as facts are vital during and post-crisis situations. Facts are essential in healing at both a personal and community level. People respond better and cooperate better when they know and understand what they are dealing with. This sharing of information needs to be promoted and strengthened.

6. Establishing truth and reconciliation committees

Truth and reconciliation committees are important platforms where survivors and victims of the pandemic or conflict can engage with opinion leaders and decision-makers on the violations suffered. Feedback mechanisms play a key role in preventing conflict and mass atrocities. People have questions and simply need answers.

This demand for truth becomes more desperate for people at the grassroots who cannot read or write or do not have access to the internet. If such masses are neither informed nor updated, someone can take advantage of this vulnerable situation, give wrong information and sustain conflict.

7. Organizing gender-sensitive training

Addressing issues on gender-based violence in societies transitioning from crisis or pandemics is vital to promote accountability and restore peace. The concept of gender sensitivity ought to be strongly emphasized in training. Both men and women should be given equal opportunity to play a key role in decision-making processes.

Women as natural caregivers should not be sidelined when fighting pandemics. Women at the forefront of crisis think as mothers, caregivers and make decisions that will uphold the rights of fellow women during a conflict or a pandemic. Women across the world have exhibited equally strong leadership in fighting COVID-19 and will continue to do so, post COVID-19.

8. Securing a safe working environment

To date, women represent 70% of the health and social sector workforce globally. During a crisis, attention should be given to how their work environment may expose women to conflict or/and discrimination. Special attention should be given to their sexual and reproductive health and psychological needs as frontline health workers. This awareness needs to take into consideration when recruiting during a crisis. Countries need to strengthen security for women at the frontline going forward.

9. Media as a positive force

The struggle to prevent crisis would not be complete without acknowledging the participation of the fourth estate, the media. Mass media needs to be recognized as a powerful force in how we experience the world and ourselves. This recognition is accompanied by growing volumes of research following the footsteps of technological transformations such as radio, internet, television, newspapers.

Media can convey a sense of unity during conflicts and pandemics by reaching larger audiences. During the COVID -19 pandemic, media has contributed to public adherence to safety guidelines provided by the World Health Organization. The media has promoted adaptive responses to foster positive health attitudes and adherence to preventive measures set by governments.

10. Strengthening linkages between grassroots and existing national systems

In building an effective network to prevent future conflicts or curb pandemics, it is important to develop a system that provides feedback to the national leaders on what the grassroots persons are thinking or demanding. Trust must be built from the grassroots to ensure successful results. A system that ignores this feedback line prepares gaps that can breed disaster. Once people at the grassroots feel left out of an existing state policy, then they will quickly mobilize to fail it, thus causing conflicts or further spread of a pandemic.

In conclusion, recovering from a crisis like COVID-19 requires us to make a joint effort to engage strategies that look beyond our desks. The new normal comes with new challenges and inventions that we are not used to. The specific role played by gender disparities in our society cannot be ignored but allow it to be strengthened and allowed to grow, especially in this recovery process. Our primary goal should be to promote reconciliation and ensure peaceful co-existence through and after the crisis.

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