UN launches Ebola Gender Mainstreaming Strategy in Sierra Leone

Date: 30 October 2014

Sierra Leone conference
The UN country team in Sierra Leone launches its Gender Mainstreaming Strategy to address the gender dimensions of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) at the Radsson Blu Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 1 October. Photo: UN Women Sierra Leone/Emma Vincent

To ensure that the needs of women and girls are addressed within the UN’s overall response to the devastating Ebola Virus Disease, the United Nations Country Team in Sierra Leone launched an Ebola Gender Mainstreaming Strategy in early October.

The Strategy aims to better connect UN organizations, promote women’s critical participation in all aspects of the Ebola response, build confidence among health workers, and reestablish trust among communities to utilize public health facilities and services.

Launching the strategy, UN Resident Coordinator David McLachlan-Karr, reiterated the UN system’s commitment to observing human rights and gender mainstreaming principles through the overall UN Country Team (UNCT) targeted response, which focuses on breaking the transmission chain.

David McLachlan-Karr and UN Sierra Leone country team
UN Resident Coordinator David McLachlan-Karr and members of the UN Sierra Leone country team present the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy. Photo: UN Women Sierra Leone/Emma Vincent

The “UN is rising to the challenges that the EVD is posing on the country, thus the unprecedented urgent creation of a special health-keeping mission - the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) - to tackle the spread of the disease in the shortest possible time in the sub-region,” he said.

During his first visit to Sierra Leone from 3–4 October, Anthony Banbury, UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General and Head of UNMEER, met with key national and international actors, including government officials, UN agencies, NGOs and women’s groups. Saying he was moved to learn about the diverse ways in which Ebola is affecting women in particular, Mr. Banbury endorsed the establishment of an Advisory Board whose main task is to advise UNMEER on how to tackle the gender dimensions of Ebola.

The Board comprises eight women, technical experts from the judiciary, legislature, Office of the Presidency, Paramount Chief, civil society and the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs. UN Women serves as the secretariat to the Board, backstopping its technical activities while acting as the nexus between the women of Sierra Leone, civil society organizations, government departments, traditional leadership organizations and UNMEER.

Gender Mainstreaming Strategy launch
At the launch of the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy at the Radsson Blu Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone on 1 October. Photo: UN Women Sierra Leone/Emma Vincent

At its inaugural session with UNMEER on 8 October, the Advisory Board came up with a comprehensive list of items needed to address the evolving gender dimensions of Ebola and it is in the process of selecting a Gender Advisor to UNMEER.

“Gender equality is an issue of development effectiveness and not just a matter of political correctness or kindness to women” emphasized Dr. Muriel J Harris, from the School of Public Health, University of Louisville, USA, in her keynote address at the event to launch the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy. Giving a brief background on the gender dimensions of Ebola from experience in other affected African countries, Dr. Harris said strategies must provide and equip women with specific and practical information that relates to their true-to-life situations, to enable them take care of sick family members.

“The strategy must incorporate the lessons learned from the outbreak of HIV/AIDS and must equally focus on the rebuilding of our education, research, physical, economic and health infrastructure, post-Ebola, to ensure the safe primary and tertiary care for pregnant and lactating women and children,” she said.
UN Women Representative in Sierra Leone, Mary Okumu, compared Ebola’s impact to that of the country’s 11-year civil war, noting that it is undermining the current gains made by the Government of Sierra Leone. She says the absence of sex-specific data has also hampered efforts to respond effectively.

“There is an urgent need for stakeholders to collect and use gender-disaggregated data to better target Ebola management and response at district and national levels,” explained Ms. Okumu, adding that generating such data is also part of the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy.

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