WILPF’s COVID-19 Response: Action for Change

Building the Movement
Women are our greatest strength. We are more than half of the world’s population, we are an enormous global constituency. WILPF maintains and builds this network as a safe and inclusive organisation, using it to advance ideas and create momentum for change.
Redefine Security
WILPF rejects the idea that security is synonymous with military strength. We believe that real security can only be achieved through a shift to a different political economy with investment in environmental protection, social and economic rights, moving money from the machinery of war to the foundations of peace.
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Socio-Economic Justice
Neoliberalism has brought us inequality, exclusion, and environmental destruction. Its very nature makes it an obstacle to peace and justice. WILPF analyses, raises awareness, and advocates for alternatives to neoliberalism. Lasting peace requires fairer economic systems and protection of people and planet.

As COVID-19 began making its way around the world in early 2020, the lives and futures of millions of people – disproportionately women and girls – were immediately put at risk.

The coronavirus itself wasn’t the only threat. Since that day, the vast impacts of the pandemic have pushed an ever-growing number of people into poverty, increased rates of gender-based violence (GBV) globally, and led to historic levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

At the same time, women – and especially women of colour – are at greater risk of contracting the virus. With women representing 70 per cent of the world’s healthcare workers and poor or marginalised women more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, women are not only struggling – they’re getting sick.

With a few noble and notable exceptions, the overall responses of governments have been confused and confusing: desperately trying to protect capitalist economies, failing to protect people, and yet still managing to turn the pandemic into another opportunity to advance neoliberal policies which further deepen the inequalities so vividly exposed by the virus.

WILPF’s response? To take action.

Illustration of loop over COVID-virus symbol

In 2020, WILPF mobilised a global movement to drive awareness, healing, and long-term change through targeted funding to support local initiatives, collaborative advocacy efforts demanding a feminist response to COVID-19, and in-depth research and analysis projects exposing failed government responses to the pandemic.

The Solidarity Care Fund

In April 2020, just a month after the WHO’s declaration, WILPF launched the Solidarity Care Fund – a short-term funding resource offering emergency support for Sections and Groups leading grassroots initiatives in response to COVID-19.

Grants were distributed to WILPF Sections and Groups in 24 countries around the world, which used the funds to reach deep into the hearts of local communities grappling with a global crisis.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19

Many Sections and Groups used funds to distribute sanitisers, masks, and handwashing stations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in remote or underserved communities.

In Pakistan, Nabeela Aslam and Misbah Nazir of WILPF Pakistan purchased sewing machines and supplies to help rural women make their own masks. They also provided mobile phones and offered training to connect women with resources and loved ones in other parts of the country, reducing their isolation and ensuring they have access to the support they need.

The Section created a special video highlighting the work made possible by the Solidarity Care Fund.

Raising awareness of gender-based violence

Supporting victims of gender-based violence and educating community members about the prevalence and effects of GBV was a primary focus for many funding recipients.

As schools, businesses, and community resources closed, millions of people around the world became locked in with their abusers. At the same time, opportunities to report violence or access support became limited or non-existent in many countries.

To address growing rates of GBV in their communities, WILPFers in Nigeria, Kenya, and Zimbabwe launched support services for victims – primarily women, girls, and members of the LGBTQ+ community – and ran public awareness campaigns to help community members understand the link between COVID-19 and GBV and recognise signs of violence.

A video created by WILPF Kenya highlights the Section’s efforts to educate students and other community members about how to protect themselves from gender-based violence, when and how to seek care, and where to go for more information.

Protecting at-risk populations

Other WILPFers accessed the Solidarity Care Fund to support specific populations facing critical risk factors for COVID-19 and its impacts.

In Afghanistan, women peace activists focused on ensuring women, girls, and individuals living with disabilities had access to the resources they needed to protect themselves from the virus while remaining safe and connected to their communities.

The Section’s support also extended to individuals with limited literacy – the majority of whom are women and girls.

“We used the budget to develop creative awareness materials accessible to all Afghan people, whether they’re literate or illiterate, so that they can learn how to protect themselves from COVID-19,” says Jamila Afghani, President of WILPF Afghanistan.

In Italy, where the number of people arriving by sea has increased dramatically over the past year, WILPFers used funds to help them access safe temporary housing, food, and mobile phones.

“We had originally planned to use the funds to house refugees and migrants in public youth hostels, but the pandemic forced the closure of all hostels, B&Bs, and hotels,” says Antonia Sani of WILPF Italy. “So, we ultimately housed refugees by renting rooms and apartments.”

In Cameroon, WILPF members used funds to launch awareness campaigns specifically targeted at the country’s large populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have been impacted by ongoing conflicts. Living in IDP camps and often without regular access to food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, this population is critically at risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Our campaigns focused on educating IDPs about how to protect themselves from COVID-19, identify symptoms of illness, and reduce stigma surrounding the virus, which can prevent individuals from seeking or receiving the appropriate healthcare,” says Donald Nguépi of WILPF Cameroon.

Addressing food insecurity

Other WILPFers used their funds to help address the issue of food insecurity, which has emerged as a major worldwide crisis during COVID-19.

WILPF Nigeria distributed food packages to nearly 2,200 families in 14 communities through its Citizens Rising Food Bank Delivery programme, while WILPF Zimbabwe provided food hampers to 100 families headed by elderly family members or children. In Afghanistan, over 400 food packages were distributed to families headed by women, widows, girls, and women living with disabilities.

Atalia Mapika of WILPF Zimbabwe said that the Solidarity Care Fund allowed the Section to deliver on-the-ground support during a period of great vulnerability. “As a Section, we were able to show that our communities can count on us in times of need,” she said.

Advocating for a feminist response

At the same time that WILPF’s support for grassroots initiatives was creating impact at the local level, we were also pushing for change for women, girls, and other marginalised groups through advocacy efforts targeted at the United Nations’ COVID-19 response.

Working in collaboration with four other global women’s organisations – Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, MADRE, medica mondiale, and the Nobel Women’s Initiative – WILPF developed Feminist Principles for an International Post-COVID-19 Settlement, a document presented to the United Nations demanding action on six critical areas of concern: ceasefire, gender-based violence, health, environment, economy, and militarism and security.

In the document, the five partners describe how systems of oppression – namely capitalism, racism, colonialism, militarism, and patriarchy – have led to failed policies and practices in each of the six areas of concern that disproportionately impact women, girls, and other marginalised populations.

Feminist Principles is now in the hands of UN members – those leading the COVID-19 response locally and globally. We will continue to closely monitor their approach and challenge them to take the action needed to change the world.

Driving change through research and dialogue

Behind the scenes, we have also been researching, talking, consulting – and reporting.

In 2020, WILPF published two major research reports examining the impacts of COVID-19 on human lives and the systems that claim to protect us.

COVID-19 and Gender Justice: Feminists in MENA Defying Global Structural Failure highlights the consequences of failed government responses to the pandemic – specifically as they relate to women’s rights activists and women’s organisations – in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The report offers a set of recommendations intended to guide the adoption of inclusive and responsive policies that advance the stability and progress of the feminist movement in the region.

And Locked Out During Lockdown, published by Reaching Critical Will – WILPF’s Disarmament Programme – during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, offers an analysis of key UN processes and forums during COVID-19. The report revealed disrupted processes, an alarming lack of transparency and civil society participation, and extensive dysfunction that threatens to directly impact international peace and security.

We also published A WILPF Guide to Documenting and Analysing Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis, a document providing feminist peace activists with an overview of the key issues and concerns they should monitor and consider acting upon.

And from March to August, we published a series of blog posts exploring a broad range of topics related to the pandemic, its impacts, and the responses needed to ensure a just, equitable path forward.

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Pakistan video transcript

(WILPF logo on blue background.)
(Roads in the city of Islamabad with a lot of traffic.)
During the coronavirus pandemic
(View of the road from the inside of a car.)
WILPF set up a solidarity care fund
(Nabeela, coordinator of WILPF Pakistan, sits in the back of the car and watches the landscape go by.)
which helped rural women to fight against the virus and best protect their families and communities.
(Lotus field with village in background.)
(Woman washing clothes, surrounded by grass and a water buffalo.)
(Young children playing on a dirt floor.)
(Smiling old man looking down from above.)
(Six young children posing in the street with plants in their hands.)
(Three young children smiling and waving to the camera.)
(Three women sit on the floor, one of them using a sewing machine while the other two look at her.)
(Two women sewing.)
On the one hand
(Purple fabric.)
(Hands holding scissors cutting the purple fabric.)
(Woman using a sewing machine.)
it equipped rural women to make masks.
(Women talking to each other, one of them holds a purple cloth mask.)
Secondly it empowered them technically
(Woman trying on a purple fabric mask.)
(Three women sitting on a bench staring at a cell phone.)
(Hands holding the cellphone.)
providing them latest mobile phones
(Women using the cell phone for a video call.)
(Three women on video call showing the phone to the camera.)
to embrace the impact of the online world.
(Images of women on video call, sewing and getting out of the car scrolling very quickly. Like a quick flashback.)
(The flow of images returns to normal and we drive slowly through the streets of Islamabad.)
(Nabeela, coordinator of WILPF Pakistan, and Misbah, WILPF Pakistan Assistant, filming themselves in the back of a car, explaining what they are going to do and making peace signs to the camera.)
So we are going to buy sewing machines and mobile phones.
(Inside of a phone store where many men are queuing.)
Women, and especially rural women are much affected by the digital divide.
(Nabeela and Misbah acquiring several cell phones.)
In Pakistan, usually women have obsolete cellphone sets as compared to men due to which they are unable to meet the challenges posed by the Corona pandemic.
(Street of a bazaar in Islamabad.)
Afterwards we visited some sewing machines shops
(Interior of sewing machine shops.)
and bought the sewing machines
(Shelves filled with sewing machines.)
recommended and requested by the village women.
(Men working in their sewing machine stores.)
In a typical Pakistani bazaar
(Man repairing a sewing machine in his store.)
almost all ways of livelihood are occupied by men. Due to favourable environment and because it is paid tailoring is men’s domain.
(Open car trunk with WILPF Pakistan signs, sewing machines and cell phones.)
(Nabeela and Misbah entering the car.)
(Nabeela and Misbah filming themseves in the backseats of the car.)
Next day early in the morning we started our journey to visit the village Narran Mughlan.
(Pakistani landscapes passing by at the speed of the car.)
Two hours drive from Islamabad.
(View of the village of Narran Mughlan. A few people, a few habitations, green spaces and water buffaloes.)
(Women taking out what’s in the trunk.)
When we entered the village first of all we visited needle and thread centre known as Soee-Dhaga Centre.
(Shelf in which threads and needles are placed.)
(Needle and thread center interior with WILPF Pakistan signs on the wall.)
(Women bringing the new sewing machine in the Needle and thread center.)
WILPF gave sewing machines thread, cloth and sanitisers to prepare masks and to train young girls in mask making.
(Women sanitizing their hands.)
(Woman taking measures on a purple fabric.)
(Woman cutting the purple fabric.)
(Woman sewing the purple fabric with a sewing machine.)
(Two women watching a third making masks with a sewing machine also explaining to them how to do it.)
We are making a pico stitch on all four sides.
(Woman continuing to show how to make a cloth mask.)
If it is a single layered mask then there is no need of stitching.
(Woman finishing a mask using a sewing machine.)
We are using a double layered mask and to join two layers a pico stitch must be used.
(Women trying on the masks.)
These masks are washable and reusable.
(Three women sitting on a bench staring at a cell phone.)
This visit was followed by WILPF monthly meeting.
(Hands holding the cellphone.)
Demonstrating how to use the newly acquired mobile phone set.
(Woman showing the phone to two other women and explaining how to use it.)
and training others to use it and teaching zoom application used by a majority of Pakistani people during lockdown periods.
(Hands holding the cellphone showing how to use the Zoom application.)
(Woman showing the phone to two other women and explaining how to use it.)
(Women using the cell phone for a video call.)
It was interesting to see Farzana Ashraf using most updated mobile phone set to connect with other members across the country through zoom. Her connection was fast, better and uninterrupted as compared to other members.
(Nabeela and Misbah getting ready to get into the car and leave the village.)
After spending almost three hours Misbah and I we started our journey back to Islamabad.
(Pakistani landscapes passing by at the speed of the car.)
(Misbah in the backseat of the car.)
And it was soothing to listen in the car ‘Wehrey aa verr meray’
(Man dancing in the car.)
(View on a landscape, people are walking in the grass, the sun is setting and some cars are driving on the road.)
(Blue background)
Filmed by Nabeela Aslam and Misbah Nazir, of WILPF Pakistan.
(WILPF logo on blue background.)

WILPF Kenya's COVID-19 response – video transcript

(WILPF logo on blue background.)
(Woman standing in a room and speaking in front of an audience of young women. Text appearing on the video that says: “In Kenya, WILPF is working with communities to prevent gender-based violence, in a programme supported by the solidarity care fund. ”)
(Woman (Diana) standing in front of a building and motorcycle, speaking to the camera.)
Good morning. It’s a sunny day. Today is our sixth day. Today we are dealing with girls. 60 girls. And we’re going to address the Red Alert programme which deals with the early signs of sexual abuse. Join us on this trip.
(Diana on the motorcycle, accompanied by a man driving it on the road. Streets and people passing by. Text appearing on the video that says: “Diana is a WILPF healthcare worker travelling to vilages around Mombasa to teach girls about health and violence.”)
(Diana gets off the motorcycle with a cardboard box in her arms and goes to a room dedicated to the Kenya Chapter of WILPF.)
(Inside of WILPF Kenya’s Chapter, a woman is standing between young women seated and listening to her. Text appearing on the video that says: “Sexual abuse is highly prevalent amongst girls attending these workshops.”)
(Inside of WILPF Kenya’s Chapter, women and girls are seated on chairs and talking together. Text appearing on the video that says: “Cases (of sexua abuse) have risen in Kenya during the pandemic restrictions as girls staying home from school are more vulnerable to abuse.”)
(Diana standing outside WILPF Kenya’s Chapter, speaking to the camera.)
These kids are inflicted by a lack of information and knowledge and a lack of such resources.
(Girls attending a workshop inside of WILPF Kenya’s Chapter. Text appearing on the video that says: “Diana and her team teach the girls: how to stay safe, when to seek care, how to recognise sign of abuse, how to get help from the community.”)
We want to reach as many young girls as possible.
(People bringing care packages to WILPF Kenya’s Chapter. Text appearing on the video that says: “The care packages contain hygiene essentials, sanitary pads, face masks and hand sanitisers.”)
(Diana standing outside WILPF Kenya’s Chapter, speaking to the camera.)
The village elders have been very supportive. We are able to look at the patterns and see if we have any changes.
(Woman speaking to women and girls during a workshop.)
(Diana standing outside WILPF Kenya’s Chapter, speaking to the camera.)
We have given ourselves a target of three months Yeah, let’s see…
(Pictures of workshops scrolling rapidly. Text appearing on the video that says: “Diana is hoping that in the future young boys will also take part.”)
(Blue background and text that says: “To learn more about the solidarity care fund visit www.wilpf.org/covid-19. Filmed by WILPF Kenya.”)
(WILPF logo on blue background.)

Credits

Creative Director – Nina Maria Mørk Hansen

Authors – Adalmiina Erkkola (stories), Emily Dontsos (stories), Molly Jerlström (Section snippets), Elena Cason (Section snippets), Tove Ivergård (Section snippets)

Copyeditor – Emily Dontsos

Video transcripts – Adélaïde Barat-Magan

Design – Nadia Joubert

Development – Pierre Joubert

Thank you to Laila Alodaat & Rasha Jarhum (The Women Leading Yemen’s Peace Movement), Elena Cason, Madeleine Rees, Ray Acheson & Nela (WILPF’s COVID-19 Response: Action for Change), Zarin Hamid & Genevieve Riccoboni (Over Two Decades Later, What Have These Women’s Rights Milestones Really Achieved?), Katrin Geyer and Ray Acheson (Feminists for Nuclear Disarmament) and Maria Butler, Jenny Aulin & Elena Cason (Walking the Green Feminist Road) for their help in writing the stories of change and giving feedback on them.

Photo contributions by: Irina Popa, Nela Porobić Isaković, Ari Beser, Korea Peace Now, Charlotte Hooij, dinosmichail, Unsplash, Adobe Stock, WILPF Sections and Groups in Aotearoa, Australia, Argentina, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Togo. Photos from WILPF Archives, WILPF International Secretariat

Videos contributions by: The Story, Tay Blyth-Kubota, Joanna Maxwell-Scott, Antoine Guide,
Crewstudio.