Women Must be at the Center of Ebola Response
Today a major international donor conference is taking place in Brussels to plan the rebuilding of Ebola hit countries. Having just recently returned from Sierra Leone and Liberia, I would like to share my reflection on how the impact of the crisis is affecting women and girls. Quite a crucial aspect, and a gender transformative approach should inform donor commitment in Brussels this Tuesday.
Recent media attention has highlighted how Ebola has hit women the hardest and how the epidemic is threatening gains in gender equality made in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The Washington Post reported that across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, collectively 55 to 60 percent of those dead were women). So why is it that we cannot move beyond the ‘interesting observation’ stage, and target that segment of the population most at risk to ensure prevention, treatment and recovery? Years of combating HIV, malaria and tuberculosis - all of which have taken the harshest toll on women in sub-Saharan Africa - reveal lessons that could help stem the tide of the Ebola epidemic.
Liberia stands out with a disproportionate share of female deaths – 75 percent, which will truly affect women’s and the country’s economic potential. The blockade put on Liberia is compounding the already fragile economic environment and exacerbating the capacity challenges. Yet there is a potentially more catastrophic crisis following Ebola: a drop in GDP growth by more than 1 percent. This renders the spread of the disease and impact on women far more devastating.
It is important for the international community, governments, and relevant stakeholders to deliberately focus on women as valuable agents of change and social mobilizers with a central role to play in shaping a comprehensive and multi-faceted response system, sharing expertise and knowledge, raising awareness and enhancing care. Women must be included in strategizing when assessing the scope of the outbreak and designing responses and implementing interventions. There is an urgent need to mitigate the economic losses of households during the pandemic and to position them for economic recovery and eventually, economic empowerment in the aftermath of the pandemic. The affected economies need to ensure that women are empowered to participate in rebuilding their countries.
Written by David Lai, Ebola Crisis Policy and Information Management Coordinator