Coronavirus Update: Report from the Field

The coronavirus hasn’t spared the wealthy and powerful as it threatens the health and livelihoods of people all over the world. But the impact on the world’s poor is especially dire and could be long-lasting. We spoke with some of our project partners to find out how they are faring in these challenging times. 

In Afghanistan, the pandemic comes amid other recent challenges, including a surge in Taliban violence and the negotiations over the proposed US withdrawal. But our project partner, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, has faced down danger before. In 1995, after the fall of the Taliban, she returned to her country and started the Afghan Institute of Learning to help a country devastated by war. Since then, AIL has trained 30,000 teachers, educated half a million children, and delivered health care and skills training to millions of men and women. 

In response to the pandemic, Yacoobi’s hardworking staff sprang into action. They distributed hot food and food packages to thousands of families facing hunger because they can’t go out to earn their daily wages. They converted tailoring classrooms into mask production centers and distributed thousands of masks, gowns, and shields to health clinic staff. They donated $13,000 worth of supplies—masks, gloves, soap, and sanitizer—to the Herat government’s coronavirus response effort. 

But Dr. Yacoobi, an educator and Nobel Prize nominee who has won international recognition for her work, was also worried about the children. “We had finally gotten the children engaged in learning. All of a sudden, they were sent home and are missing school. The teachers and administrators gathered and asked, ‘What should we do?’” They created video lessons for students who had access to a phone or a computer. For the rest, they made printed packets of lessons and set up a hotline to tell families where they could pick up the materials. Finally, they made tutors available at schools and offered counseling for adults to address the increase in domestic violence. 

In Pakistan, our project partner Khalida Brohi and her Sughar Foundation works with NGOs that help women in the country’s rural and tribal regions. Brohi launched Sughar at the age of 16 after losing her beloved cousin to an “honor” killing. The foundation works with local NGOs to provide livelihood and empowerment training to women and to provide seed money for woman-owned small businesses. In response to covid-19, the foundation has shifted temporarily to provide food rations and counseling for their clients’ families. A $25 bag supplies food for a family for a month and contains: 

  • Hand sanitizer,
  • Cooking oil (5 liter)
  • Atta/Flour (5 kg)
  • Daal/Lentils (2 kg)
  • Biscuits (2) Packets
  • Chana/Chickpea Lentils (2 kg)
  • Sugar (2 kg)
  • Rice (2 kg)
  • Patti/Tea

In Somaliland, which has one of the highest rates of mortality in the world, our project partner Edna Adan continues her life-saving mission: to care for mothers and infants and train midwives at her Edna Adan Hospital. We are heartened to learn that another class of Edna’s midwives is on track to graduate next month! The advanced midwife students are continuing their classes online. First-year midwives, in one of their final training sessions before graduation, recently met in small groups to learn procedures for resuscitating babies. 

One bright spot amid the relentless bad news on the coronavirus is how successfully women leaders—from German chancellor Angela Merkel to Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen—have managed the crisis. Check out this analysis in The Guardian. We can’t say exactly why women are doing so well—to do so would be to perpetuate gender stereotypes—but one thing is clear: “being macho is a liability.” Check out Helen Lewis’s take in The Atlantic and Nicolas Kristof’s in The New York Times. These women leaders inspired us to create a new prize for ConnectHER’s Film Festival: the My Hero Award. Women are taking the lead—as politicians and business leaders, research scientists and pro athletes, peacemakers and changemakers. In so many arenas, women leaders bring to the role such qualities as capability, courage, creativity, and compassion. Think New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, tennis star Serena Williams, and activists Malala and Greta Thunberg. At the local level, too, women are taking charge and improving the planet and the lives of people in their communities. Do you know a woman leader whose work is worth sharing? The ConnectHER My Hero Award recognizes a short film that inspires us with her story. The winner will receive $2,500.

Alert: Covid-19 Could Set Back Decades of Women’s Progress

The covid-19 pandemic could set back decades of progress for women.

  • Domestic violence has surged by 20 percent during the lockdown. Many women are trapped at home with their abusers.
  • Billions of people could fall back into poverty, which hits women hardest. “In a matter of mere months, the coronavirus has wiped out global gains that took two decades to achieve, leaving an estimated two billion people at risk of abject poverty,” writes The New York Times. According to the World Bank, almost half of the projected new poor will be in South Asia, and more than a third in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Some 10 million secondary school girls may never return to school. After school closures, girls often end up staying home to save school fees, to work to support the family, or to shoulder increased household work. Check out the Malala Fund’s report on this looming crisis here.
  • Millions of women may not return to work. Women have been hit hardest by job losses during this crisis. They also bear an unequal burden of childcare, so as businesses reopen and schools don’t, many may leave full-time jobs, eroding decades of progress for women in the workplace.

ConnectHER supports Women Deliver’s recommendations here.