It’s been a hard start to 2020, both in Australia and around the world. Due to COVID-19 and government lockdowns, many people in the communities we work with lost their livelihoods overnight. And during times like these, it is women that bear the brunt. Government lock downs have made it harder for women to work, to access health care and to seek protection from family violence. Many are struggling to find the means to feed and support their families. Without access to the kind of welfare and government stimulus packages we have in Australia, our partners are stepping up.
Right now, in the face of enormous challenges, our partners are showing resilience and determination. They are mobilising to help their communities navigate the pandemic – setting up community hand-washing stations, educating their communities about sanitation and social distancing, meeting the demands of a rising wave of women experiencing family and sexual violence and ensuring that the most vulnerable women and children have their basic needs met at the height of the crisis.
Mahalir Sakthi are working in the slums of Madurai to establish community hand-washing stations, distribute soap and basic needs to the most vulnerable women in their community and planning for their next round of health lectures and medical clinics.
During these difficult times, we continue to work, as we have for 20 years, trusting the knowledge, resourcefulness and tenacity of our community partners.
Our partners are mobilising and doing vital work to help their communities confront the health and livelihood impacts of this pandemic – and to keep their eye on programs that make a long-term difference. We are are determined to ride the highs and lows with our partners and ensure they have the support they need to get themselves and their communities through this pandemic.
Supporting women facing family violence in Bougainville
Over the past 12 months, we have worked with our newest partner, the HAKO Women’s Collective, to fund staffing and operating costs for their two-bed emergency safe house in the Buka district of Bougainville. The Meri Seif Haus is the only one of its kind in the area. For women escaping family and sexual violence, it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering emergency shelter, counselling and referrals to legal and health services.
During the lockdown, HAKO has reported a spike in clients contacting the safe house. HAKO have worked hard to keep the safe house open during the pandemic with careful social distancing measures, but they are struggling to meet this growing demand. They have secured funding to build a second stand-alone house, with a counselling space, two bedrooms and a kitchen. As construction nears completion, your support will ensure that HAKO has the means to run this expanded service on a 24 hour basis for survivors of family and sexual violence.
Keeping sexual health services accessible in Kigali and providing direct support to those most vulnerable
In Rwanda, the lockdown forced Club Rafiki to close their doors but they adapted quickly to shift programs online and find ways to connect with young people in their homes. They shifted their sexual and reproductive health drop-in clinic to an online and phone service. And it has been needed more than ever.
The lock down period has increased risk for young women and girls. As Club Rafiki reopens, the team is seeing increased demand for assistance, with more than 60 young women requesting pregnancy tests in the last two weeks of May. Seventeen of those girls were pregnant and six were HIV positive.
Club Rafiki have also reached out to the most vulnerable young people in their community – those who have lost work, those with unplanned pregnancy or who are unwell. In the short term, they employed young people to deliver essential food parcels and hygiene packs to relieve hardship and help protect the health and wellbeing of others in their community.
Lisa*, a 20 year old woman, was a victim of sexual violence. She lives in Kigali with three other young women and, until the COVID-19 lockdown, was employed in a bar. She explains how the support from Club Rafiki during this time has been critical. “Hygiene is still my priority, even during this hard time, because I’m a girl and girl means hygiene. That is why I decided to bought pads in the support provided by Club Rafiki, and I bought foods also.“
Funding GP clinics and health workshops in the slums of Madurai
The Indian government has imposed one of the harshest lockdowns in the world. The impact has been devastating in the slums of Madurai, where women are largely ‘day labourers’ working in unregulated sectors such as domestic cleaning and street selling. We’ve learned through our partner, Mahalir Sakthi, that these women are unable to work or buy food. And controlling COVID-19 in the slum areas is very difficult with multiple generations living in makeshift homes with poor or no access to clean running water and soap.
Mahalir Sakthi has been forced to close its doors during the lockdown but they have continued to mobilise as part of a local coalition. They are working to establish community hand-washing facilities, to educate about social distancing and sanitation and, where necessary, to distribute basic items, such as soap and food, to the most vulnerable women in their community. Mahalir Sakthi are also determined to get back on track with their long-running health programs. As the lock down eases, they want to re-start their public health workshops and GP clinics, which last year helped ensured over 250 people received free medical treatment.
While there have been short term adjustments, our local partners are determined to stay on track with programs that build community resilience and have a long-term impact.
In Indonesia, this means it’s important to keep investing in women-run food gardens. Recently, these gardens have been invaluable, with last year’s plantings continuing to provide food for women heads-of-household at a time when women have been unable to work and markets have been closed. We just heard that women will be allowed to resume working in the gardens again in coming weeks in time to plant corn, harrow, peanuts and mung beans before the rainy seasons starts in December.
And in Afghanistan, this means our partners need your continued commitment to hold the course on improving schools infrastructure and education outcomes. Despite heightened political conflict and school shut downs due to government restrictions, our partners at the Borjegai and Jirghai Shura remain determined to continue investing in school infrastructure. This year, across six new schools they’ll build classrooms, install desks and ensure there is clean water and separate female toilets to reach the next generation of girls in Afghanistan.
Together we will emerge from this pandemic – with stronger relationships, mutual learnings and new capabilities in our partner organisations.
On behalf of all of us here at indigo foundation, thank you.