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17. April 2020

Comment by Sybille Fezer: Working in times of Covid-19

Several weeks ago, like many people around the world, our team at the women’s rights organisation medica mondiale moved into the digital sphere. Here we communicate with our project officers and trauma counsellors around the world. Together we try to ensure that women and girls continue to receive support, in spite of the coronavirus-related restrictions. We are also adapting our work to make an active contribution to curbing the pandemic.

How is the medica mondiale team working during the coronavirus situation?

Our colleagues are in contact with our partner organisations almost every day. For example, with the women’s rights activists in Rwanda or Democratic Republic of Congo they discuss the most suitable measures to protect against the new coronavirus, but also to protect against the increases in domestic violence seen during crises. They share their knowledge of how women and girls can still be provided with rapid, efficient assistance, including those most severely affected by the crisis: single women, old people, poverty-afflicted communities, young girls, sex workers or people infected with HIV.

In times of crisis, women keep their society going – in Congo, too.

Many of the women’s organisations all over the world who have been working with medica mondiale for years were able to adapt their ways of working within a very short time. They distribute hygiene materials and inform and warn their communities. Our experience has taught us that during armed conflicts, but also during other crises, it is generally the women who keep the ‘system’ running while at the same time some essential rights such as the access to pregnancy advice and contraception or safe birthing environments seem to no longer exist. Often the fear of hunger is greater than the fear of the virus, so the female activists in the Global South also keep an eye on this.

Feminist solidarity: Emergency funds for Covid-19

The team at medica mondiale is giving them advice, raising donations for an emergency fund and informing the public in Germany about the situation in our partner countries, the work of the local activists there, and the challenges they are facing. We are also helping to connect them with each other. For example, the women in Liberia already gained valuable experiences during the Ebola epidemic in 2014, and have been advising the organisations in the Great Lakes region of Africa how to transfer to telephone-based sessions or conduct grief counselling. They also shared how to benefit from existing solidarity groups to help gain and maintain an overview of which neighbourhoods have people in quarantine facing existential threats.

We keep supporting women and girls during the crisis

Our colleagues here in Germany and the women’s rights campaigners in our partner regions also remember those who are working until they are exhausted within the healthcare system, coping daily with suffering and grief, and putting their own lives at risk. For years we have been working together with many health centres, training them in our stress- and trauma-sensitive approach for working with women who have experienced violence.

So our team in our Trauma Department are extremely busy at present, dealing with enquiries on a daily basis from northern Iraq and Afghanistan, wanting to know how they can help their nursing staff and doctors. They provide coaching sessions and develop easy-to-read handouts. They are developing digital self-care tools that each worker can turn to on their mobile phone when they have a moment to pause. And the directors of our partner organisations also sometimes struggle to find a balance between their great commitment and their individual strength. They are often an important role model for their staff members, so it is good for them to be able to talk frankly with a sympathetic colleague in far-away Germany.

Feminist principles for a ceasefire

Another thing that is important for us is to maintain our awareness of other significant political issues. We keep up our connections with feminist colleagues in New York and Canada who are seeking to make political use of the ceasefire called by the UN Secretary-General by ensuring that women’s voices are heard. Together we are currently drafting feminist principles for a ceasefire.

Working together for women’s rights

In Serbia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Cologne and elsewhere, we are empowering each other and working together to counter the effects of the pandemic and further the cause of women’s rights. This is happening in ‘home offices’ with computer and children on our laps, in the health clinic in Goma, in the counselling centre in northern Iraq and in the village community in Rwanda.

Author: Sybille Fezer, women’s rights activist and Board Member of medica mondiale.

Related topics

Feminist Self-Care and Solidarity in times of Coronavirus

Insights into the work of medica mondiale