Weathering the Storm of COVID-19

by Lauren Ravon, Oxfam Canada | March 20, 2020
Background media: women washing hands after Cyclone Idai, Mozambique
Peter Caton/DEC

Weathering the Storm of COVID-19

by Lauren Ravon, Oxfam Canada | March 20, 2020
Julia, an aid worker for Oxfam, demonstrates good hygiene practice at Victoria’s home in Beira, Mozambique.

Sometimes a week can feel like a very long time.

As we watch the global spread of coronavirus and see our country and our world changing daily in front of us, we naturally feel concern and fear, for ourselves and our loved ones.

As a mother and a daughter, like many of you across this country, I am trying to figure out how to keep my family safe and healthy over the coming weeks while balancing work and care responsibilities.

As a humanitarian, I am working with my colleagues to quickly scale up our capacity to help the most vulnerable and save lives in the communities where Oxfam works around the world.

And as an activist, I am reflecting on how deep-rooted social, economic and gender inequalities are making it so much harder for some people to weather the storm.

We can already see that existing inequality means the most marginalized people in society are at greatest risk. If COVID-19 takes hold in the poorest countries of the world, it will be devastating. Imagine being a mother in a crowded refugee camp where social distancing is impossible, health care is virtually non-existent, and there isn’t clean water to wash your hands. Women make up 70 per cent of the world's health care workers and are at highest risk of infection. Women are also the most likely to shoulder the burden of caring for sick relatives and looking after children at home. As we are more and more confined in our movements, women are at greater risk of domestic violence. And we will undoubtedly see a rise in gender based violence across the globe. As the pandemic spreads, life will be particularly hard for the poorest and most marginalized among us, and hard-won progress on women’s rights could be reversed.

Right now Oxfam staff are on the ground in 65 countries working with partners, ministries of heath and UN agencies to make preparedness plans and scale up our support to the communities and refugee camps in which we work. We are already increasing the delivery of soap, sanitation services (including hand-washing facilities) and clean water.

For decades, water, sanitation and hygiene has been a part of Oxfam’s humanitarian expertise. As we gear up to respond to this outbreak, we will be working hand-in-hand with local partners – as we do in all emergencies. Their local expertise is critical and will help ensure we respond in a way that takes into account the differing needs and risks that women and girls face.

The fact is - tackling the disease as it spreads will be a mammoth task. But I’m confident we can get through this. Just this week, communities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were celebrating the containment of a major Ebola outbreak, working hand-in-hand with Oxfam and other humanitarian organizations.

In the face of this global pandemic, Oxfam will work to protect people living in poverty across the globe and continue to advocate for their rights. While we gear up to respond to this emergency, we are also continuing our vital work on sexual and reproductive health and rights and ending violence against women. It is precisely because of how women experience a crisis that we can and must continue this work alongside emergency measures. No one individual, community, or country can deal with this crisis alone. We must work together, in our communities and across borders.

We cannot address this crisis for some and not others. It simply won’t work. This virus does not care if you are a billionaire or a refugee. It doesn’t care what country you live in or if you have paid sick leave. The virus doesn't care, but we do.

When the wealthy get sick or see their stocks plummet, they have access to healthcare and resources to ride out market instability. That's not true for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. This is why we need to act now – in our own towns and around the world – to make sure everyone has the support they need to weather the storm.

Donate HERE to help Oxfam scale up our response to COVID-19 in communities and refugee camps around the world.

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