COVID-19: Advocacy Beyond Borders
By Amanda Livingstone, Senior Advocacy Officer, White Ribbon Alliance
Since COVID-19 hit Europe and the United States, it’s all we can think about. It’s all we hear about – and it’s all we read about. We know that the American health system is strained and insufficient to meet our country’s needs, especially the specific needs of pregnant people during a pandemic. But, despite the darkness, we have also seen the light. Whether it’s mass donations to hospitals to ensure health workers have Personal Protective Equipment ((PPE), sharing verified and scientific evidence from WHO with our friends and families to ensure we remain safe or seeing New York City hospitals change their policy to allow a support person or companion to pregnant people during labor and delivery, we have witnessed individuals and communities unite during these challenging times. The same is happening around the world.
What you might not hear on the news or see in your social media feeds are the brave voices and bold actions of our friends, colleagues and activists across the globe. Their calls for action are similar to ours, but face the added challenges of even weaker health systems, fewer health workers, increased levels of poverty, misinformation and even more limited access to health facilities – especially during lockdowns with restricted mobility for those who are the most marginalized including adolescents, individuals who are differently abled and pregnant people.
Last year, White Ribbon Alliance (WRA) launched the What Women Want campaign, where WRA and partners asked 1.2 million women and girls around the world about their one request for their reproductive and maternal healthcare. The results were maddeningly simple yet inherently complex. Women and girls wanted: 1) respectful and dignified care when seeking health services; 2) access to water, sanitation, and hygienic facilities (i.e., clean health facilities); and 3) basic medicines and supplies. Women and girls made these asks in 2019 when they were living under “normal” circumstances – before the pandemic struck. Now, these seemingly simple asks risk being in even shorter supply as COVID-19 threatens Africa and Asia.
WRA and our partners know it is essential to get ahead of COVID-19 through information sharing, ensuring governments allocate sufficient resources to health workers and facilities, and supporting pregnant people and their communities to know about their health and rights during this pandemic. WRA National Alliances are mobilizing to educate communities, hold governments accountable, and support the most at risk individuals to continue our work toward a world where all women and girls can realize their right to quality health and well-being – despite COVID-19.
Here are just a few ways WRA is acting on the call to ensure women’s rights do not come secondary to COVID-19 but instead are the foundation of every sustainable solution to this crisis:
WRA Global Alliance and the Global Respectful Maternity Care Council have launched the “Safer Together” campaign, which seeks to:
1) Ensure that all women and newborns receive dignity and respect in every aspect of maternity care during the pandemic;
2) Ensure health facilities are properly equipped to protect both patients and providers, with adequate number of providers and proper infection control, protective equipment, and water/sanitation;
3) Ensure that women and their providers are aware of their rights and responsibilities within the healthcare system.
Specifically, WRA National Alliances are:
- WRA Bangladesh is working to coordinate partner organizations specializing in health research, health service delivery, social marketing, advocacy, and gender-based violence to ensure communities have access to equitable COVID information and services, maternal healthcare and essential supplies like hand sanitizer.
- WRA India, WRA Pakistan, and WRA Zimbabwe are sharing COVID-19, reproductive health, and gender-based violence information through social media, traditional media, and WhatsApp to grassroots-level community and frontline healthcare workers, women and adolescents about pregnancy and what healthcare services should be available in local health facilities even during the pandemic.
- WRA Indonesia is honing in on the importance of sharing maternal and newborn care, family planning and COVID-19 messaging while also ensuring communities have access to contraceptives.
- WRA Kenya is partnering with media champions like the BBC to amplify expert advice on pregnancy, primary healthcare, and COVID-19 and ensuring maternal health information is included in materials developed and shared by the Kenyan Ministry of Health with communities, including individuals who are differently abled, across the country. Alongside community partners, WRA Kenya has also committed to help monitor COVID-19 and maternal health in rural areas using a mobile platform that has been built by the Open Institute.
- WRA Malawi is advocating to ensure emergency funds are available for personal protective equipment and hiring of at least 2,000 additional healthcare workers to avoid a potential catastrophic strike.
- WRA Mexico, known locally as Comité Promotor por una Maternidad Segura en México (CPMS), has successfully advocated for the National Health Authority to issue a directive to all states that reproductive and maternal health services be protected as essential services.
- WRA Nepal is taking lessons learned from the 2015 earthquake and applying them to their COVID-19 response by providing psychosocial support and information to pregnant people and parents.
- WRA Nigeria is looking at Nigeria’s health system and ensuring proper COVID-19 education is being shared across health workers, health administrators and facility cleaners.
- WRA Tanzania is translating the WHO COVID-19 Guidelines into Kiswahili to share with communities over social and traditional media. Additionally, representatives from WRA Tanzania, Tanzania Midwives Association (TAMA), and the Ministry of Health will engage in a 2-hour talk show on ITV to discuss COVID-19 this Friday, April 17th. WRA Tanzania will represent and share the specific needs of women and girls – including the heightened issues of unwanted pregnancy, labor and delivery, and gender-based violence, along with the latest evidence on COVID-19 on pregnancy and newborn care; TAMA will share the specific needs of midwives during COVID-19; and, the Ministry of Health will share their current COVID-19 action plan and how they will continue to support maternal and reproductive health efforts across the country.
- WRA Uganda is working closely with reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health platforms and AMREF Health in advocating for improved services for mothers and newborns. They are also working with civil society organizations to mobilize supplies from the private sector.
- WRA UK is circulating a petition calling for the suspension of the National Health Service’s system of charging people with insecure immigration status when they seek health services, as it undermines the national effort to cease the spread of COVID-19.
- WRA Afghanistan and WRA Yemen want to ensure women and girls have access to essential COVID-19 information within humanitarian settings.
The global White Ribbon Alliance’s COVID-19 efforts are based on our long-term approach of listening to women and creating solutions based on their self-articulated needs. Whether in times of crisis or in our everyday work, we know that putting women and girls at the center of the decision-making process is essential to strengthening health systems and improving outcomes for women and girls.
We hope you are staying safe, sane and healthy – and continue to support those most in need at home and abroad.