This document, published by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Reference Group for Gender in Humanitarian Action, offers guidance on how to take into account the different needs of women, girls, boys and men in order to make the humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa more effective and accountable to all affected populations, especially women and girls.
As stated in the document, women and girls are potentially more at risk as victims of the Ebola outbreak. "Historical evidence demonstrates the vulnerability of women and girls and as such, it is essential that gender is integrated into the consolidated response strategies. This has been attributed to some of the cultural and traditional practices in the affected communities of West Africa." The report cites a number of examples which include the fact that women are more likely to be front-line health workers or health facility service-staff (e.g. cleaners, laundry etc.) and as such they are more likely to be exposed to the disease. Also, norms and customs dictate that women and girls play the role of caretakers for ill family members, increasing their risk of contracting the disease. Similarly, women are often traditionally tasked with preparing dead-bodies for burial which again brings them into direct contact with the disease. In addition, given that pregnant women are more likely to have contact with health services (antenatal care and delivery), they experience greater exposure to infections in health facilities.
In order to ensure a gender-integrated response, the document highlights a number of areas that require attention, and provides action points for each of them. The following are the highlighted areas with a selection of the action points as they relate to media and communication:
Participation and Leadership of Women and Girls - As the response in West Africa relies heavily on social mobilization and community engagement, and because cultural roles and responsibilities of women and girls in the community are a crucial aspect of this, "their participation and leadership in the containment and elimination of the disease is absolutely fundamental." Specific communication related action points to ensure participation and leadership of women and girls include:
- "Gender equality and women’s participation should be integrated throughout the outbreak management and recovery process".
- "All social mobilization and community engagement initiatives are to be developed in conjunction with women and youth groups, female Community Health-Workers, traditional birth attendants, traditional female healers etc."
- "All healthcare workers and social mobilizers should be sensitized on the need to target women and girls with messages on disease prevention and countering anti-treatment misinformation."
- "All mass-information campaigns and their materials must be developed in consultation with appropriate men and women community representative leaders and experts so that they include appropriate contextualized and targeted practical messages for women, men, girls and boys."
Health Care – As stated in the report, "The primary focus of the outbreak containment strategy is community mobilization through advocacy and information campaigns. It is essential that all Ebola prevention messages take into consideration the distinct needs of women, men, girls and boys - relating to their context and presented in an understandable format." It is also important that healthcare workers and support staff in hospitals and clinics (many of them women) receive adequate training and equipment to protect themselves. Women are also affected as standard health services – in particular antenatal, postnatal care and delivery services – are affected by the Ebola outbreak and all efforts should be taken to maintain these. Communication-related action items to ensure equal access to health care include:
- The health care response must facilitate the development and dissemination of targeted messaging on preventive, protective and care seeking behaviors and available health resources responsive to the different contexts and concerns of women, men, boys and girls.
Non-food Items (NFI) – Dignity kits and sanitary materials must be made available to populations under quarantine and to women and girls currently under-going treatment and/or in recovery.
Food Security and Livelihoods – The Ebola crisis is having a significant impact on the ability of the affected populations to fend for themselves and as a consequence, levels of food insecurity are rising. This is especially true amongst the rural poor and in particular female and child headed households.
Protection - The ongoing crisis is having a detrimental affect on the social fabric of all the affected countries, leading to the breakdown of normal communal protective structures. "Whilst some communities are displaced and others are isolated in quarantine, people everywhere are living in a state of fear, panic, misinformation, paranoia and distrust." This affects normal legal, social, and policing structures as well as security, justice, and social services, which, for example, leave limited avenues to justice or services for survivors of gender-based violence. Women and girls are also particularly vulnerable as households are left unprotected with adult members incapacitated and/or in treatment. Action points include:
- Due to the high levels of distrust and misinformation amongst the wider population, "health workers and community mobilisers must be afforded security protection whilst undertaking their work."
Assessment and Planning – "Negligible gender-specific data is currently available, highlighting the need for greater priority to be given to collecting sex- and age-disaggregated data. Needs assessments and project developments must prioritise the collection and analysis of sex-and age-disaggregated data and gender-responsive consultations with women, girls, boys and men."
Reliefweb website on October 10 2014.