At the frontlines, Liberian women adopt new strategies in Ebola response

Through radio programmes, psychosocial support and training women’s networks, UN Women is supporting efforts to address the gender dimension of the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

Date: 10 October 2014

Radio host Justice Clarke and his guests sit in a semi-circular United Nations radio studio for a live discussion of ‘Ebola and Stigma’. This is a special edition of the UN Women-sponsored 12th Man radio talk-show, produced in partnership with UN Radio in Liberia — a show devoted to promoting men’s role in ending sexual and gender-based violence and helping empower women and girls.

However, considering the devastating emotional and psychological effects of the Ebola outbreak, the programme was modified to provide psychosocial support, targeting patients, health workers and the public, with a specific focus on the needs of women. Radio spots with messages on ending violence against women were also aired throughout the discussion.

Presenter Justice Clarke (centre) sits alongside his guests Clinical Psychologist Francesca Crabu of the International Committee of the Red Cross and her colleague. Photo courtesy of the ICRC

“We know very well how the Ebola crisis is having a huge impact across the Liberian society. Think about the immediate benefit of psychosocial response,” said Francesca Crabu, Clinical Psychologist for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Liberia. “We see very quickly how even 20 minutes of intervention can lead to change in behaviour and one’s way of thinking. We are building resilience at community-level.”

Engaging women in community-based Ebola awareness

Preliminary data from Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare showed that women accounted for between 55 to 60 per cent of Ebola related deaths, with the rate of infection of women at that time much higher than men. This is due to women’s roles as caregivers, nurses and cross-border traders. In rural areas, where the majority of smallholder farmers are women, food production is almost certain to drop, while the closure of borders is affecting cross-border traders, the majority of whom are women.

At least 50 representatives from partner institutions of UN Women and the country’s Gender and Development Ministry have been trained to raise awareness on the Ebola Virus Disease in various communities across Liberia.

“I found this training very helpful and educational especially in answering some of the doubts that we have in our community about Ebola. Now I am aware that bathing with salt solution or eating bitter kola (Garcinia Kola) cannot cure or prevent the spread of the virus. I have gained a lot of knowledge and I want to ask for more training about Ebola,” said Beatrice Joe, who took part in the Training of Trainers Ebola Workshop. 

Training facilitator Johnette Davies Wahtoson demonstrates how to use a plastic bag if attending to an Ebola-related case. Photo: UN Women Liberia/Winston Daryoue

The training participants, 85 per cent of whom were women, learned different social mobilization skills aimed at providing Ebola prevention information to grass-roots women and reach the illiterate. The September training also focused on teaching the proper methods and formula for preparing chlorinated water for hand-washing and cleaning, how to use gloves or plastic bags to respond to suspected Ebola patients, what to do to prevent the spread of the virus as well as how to interact with survivors.

At the trainings, Liberia’s Gender and Development Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell urged the participants to go all-out in their communities and replicate the training to help prevent the further spread of the disease. She called for more focus on the specific needs of women and children affected by the virus and for proper gender-disaggregated data.

Ebola Patients Receive Support

“It is evident that the current Ebola situation poses a great threat to the economic gains made in Liberia over the years,” said UN Women Deputy Country Representative and Officer-in-Charge Peterson Magoola. “To try to mitigate the effects and impact of the outbreak, UN Women in partnership and close collaboration with other UN agencies, Government of Liberia and women networks, has continued to provide support and emergency assistance, and ensure that the overall response considers the different gender dimensions, including ensuring that the needs of women and girls affected are addressed.”

The closure of borders and some markets coupled with the increase in the prices of basic commodities is affecting local businesswomen like this beneficiary of UN Women’s Next Level Business Programme for Market Women. Photo: UN Women Liberia/Arwen Kidd

With support from UN Women, the Ministry of Gender and Development (MoGD) is scaling-up its prevention, awareness-raising and contact-tracing efforts through its women’s networks, including female traditional leaders, rural women groups, women in cross-border trade, women farmers and businesswomen at the various markets under the Liberia Marketing Association in Monrovia and across the country. UN Women is also extending its support to civil society organizations, men’s advocacy groups and implementing partners on various Ebola prevention interventions and related supplies.

“UN Women and MoGD believe that by increasing the chances of survival of women and by strengthening their economic viability, as well as working through these already established women networks at all levels, we will be building a major wall of defense for families in the fight against the Ebola Virus,” said Mr. Magoola.

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