Adapting to changing landscapes: How women, girls, trans, and intersex people are addressing COVID-19

 

Susan Jessop

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What Mama Cash is hearing from its partners around the world about their strategies for dealing with the global pandemic

‘We are putting self- and collective-care into practice and not losing hope that [the pandemic] will soon pass …that together we may continue defending life and our lands.’ Red Nacional de Mujeres en Defensa de la Madre Tierra (National Network of Women Defending Mother Earth—RENAMAT), Bolivia

Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, Mama Cash reached out to the grantee-partners we support – both emerging and established groups around the world that are building strong feminist movements to advance the rights of women, girls, and trans and intersex people. We sent messages of support and solidarity, and asked what they are experiencing.

As ever, grantee-partners are addressing both immediate and longer-term needs within their communities and movements. Naturally, their needs and concerns have been impacted by the pandemic: increases in violence against women, girls and LBTQI people, losses of livelihood and access to medical care due to lock-downs, and the specific challenges facing disabled people, are a few examples of what we are hearing. In addition, many governments are using the pandemic and quarantine restrictions as a pretext for repression and violence to crack down on dissent. (To read more about what our partners are coping with under COVID-19, see our previous blog.)

Funders invested in making communities safe for all oppressed peoples can learn from the time-tested work of feminist activists. Given the nature of their organising, the ever-changing contexts in which they work, and their rootedness in their communities, these activists are accustomed to adjusting to crises in complex circumstances. In that sense, they already possess many of the skills and tools needed to assess and adapt to changing landscapes.

Feminist groups around the world are responding
The partners that have been in touch with Mama Cash are using a range of strategies to continue their vital work during this global pandemic and to keep communities safe. Key strategies that partners are using include:

  • Providing direct support to their communities, such as distributing food packages, sharing seeds and harvests, and providing financial support to access basic goods;
  • Doing tasks and errands collectively, while maintaining safe physical distance, to maintain their sense of community and solidarity;
  • Organising online support group sessions for members;
  • Engaging in advocacy (often online) and creating materials, like position papers and calls to action, to ensure that vulnerable populations are included in emergency response and recovery policies; and,
  • Setting up emergency funding mechanisms (discussed further in our next blog).

Sharing information and protecting rights
The Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative (WHER) promotes the well-being and rights of sexual minority women in Nigeria. In response to the pandemic, WHER shifted to offering human rights training, counselling, and legal aid over messaging apps and conference calls. WHER wants to ensure that sexual minority women continue to have access to human rights information, as well as psychosocial and legal support during the pandemic, in a context where restrictions on mobility are impacting access to services and the mental health of the community.

Practicing collective care
The pandemic has affected many groups of workers, including sex workers who have been hard hit. They have lost their ability to work, and they are often left out of relief measures, as they are not recognised as workers. In countries around the world, groups of sex workers supported by Mama Cash and the Red Umbrella Fund, a participatory fund by and for sex workers hosted by Mama Cash, have adapted their work to meet the immediate needs of their constituents. These groups are providing food, medication and covid prevention packages (masks, soap, gloves) to sex workers. For example, Pow Wow, a sex worker-led group in Zimbabwe supported by the Red Umbrella Fund has worked collaboratively with the Sexual Rights Center and a local health department to create a Food Relief Programme to support vulnerable sex workers.

In Sri Lanka, two unions of women workers in the informal sector, mainly in textile, tea and rubber, are working to secure emergency funds for their members who are left without work or social security to support them through this period.

Advancing advocacy
Many of the constituencies supported by Mama Cash are not prioritised by governments’ responses to the pandemic. As a result, Mama Cash’s grantee-partners are stepping up their advocacy to ensure that their constituencies receive support. Human Rights for Women and Girls with Disabilities in Malawi reports that they have begun to see more cases of domestic abuse among their constituents, and is advocating with the government and other stakeholders to make sure that disabled women and girls are included as a priority constituency in COVID-19 programmes.

As workers in the informal economy, sex workers have been completely excluded from social and economic aid in many countries. The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe has published demands of European institutions and governments to provide income substitution and housing support, a moratorium on fines, raids, arrests and prosecutions due to sex work and immigration status, and access to health care for all and regularisation of undocumented migrants.

Continued resourcing for movements
In this time of significant economic hardship, having secure core and long term funding is critical for feminist movements to be able to pivot, adapt and respond to new and unforeseen circumstances and needs.

Stay tuned for the next post in this blog series, in which we’ll discuss how Mama Cash is responding as a funder during COVID-19.

Susan Jessop is Senior Officer for Content Development at Mama Cash.


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