How to tackle gender equality when Ebola is part of the equation?
3 March 2015
This blog post was originally published on Wiley’s Gender Equality blog, available here.
by Tricia Young, Director of Child to Child
Women and girls have been amongst the most vulnerable groups in the Ebola outbreak. Due to their traditional role as carers, women are at a much higher risk of being infected. As the number of Ebola cases and deaths continued to rise during 2014, health care facilities either shut down or focused on Ebola patients. This sad situation left pregnant women and nursing mothers without appropriate care, whilst it indirectly denied women and girls access to family planning counselling and contraceptives.
The epidemic also resulted in thousands of children being orphaned. In the majority of cases older children – almost exclusively girls – have taken on the parental role, which is likely to mean that many girls are unable to complete their education, leading to a life of unskilled labour. School also provides a protective environment for girls. Without it they are much more vulnerable to abuse. The Sierra Leonean government has noted increased rates of rape and sexual and gender-based violence. Rates of teenage pregnancy have also increased exponentially, thought to be largely due to transactional sex as girls try to secure basic amenities such as food.
UK-based child rights charity Child to Child is working in partnership with the award-winning radio production team Pearl Works and a local Sierra Leonean NGO – The Pikin to Pikin Movement – to address the severe disadvantage and exclusion girls are now facing in Sierra Leone’s education system and within their communities. These agencies are adapting a 5-year early years and life-skills education initiative which they were implementing until the Ebola outbreak stopped all activities in May 2014. This programme used the award-winning Child to Child approach to provide access to early childhood and life skills education to children in a very impoverished and marginalised area in Sierra Leone. The programme, funded by UK-donor Comic Relief, was so successful that it had been recognised by the UN Girls Education Initiative. It was one of only 13 programmes selected globally to be showcased for its impact on girls’ education.
The agencies are now collaborating on the development of a series of magazine-format radio programmes, designed to reach older and younger children. Radio minimises the risk of Ebola transmission (because no public congregation is required) and allows larger numbers of beneficiaries to be reached. They are working together with children to produce content focusing on early years education, life skills and psychosocial support.
Gender is being mainstreamed across the radio series with gender equality messages integrated throughout:
- One of the two radio presenters will be female to promote the notion of equality.
- Many high profile inter/national and local female role models are being sourced to share their challenges and achievements through positive sound bites, interviews and discussion groups.
- Female fictional characters will be created in radio dramas to demonstrate how girls can and should be able to participate in all matters affecting them.
- Life Skills educational activities will be covered which focus on developing girls’ self-confidence and enabling them to making safer choices.
- Episodes will be made for parents and adults in the community which will challenge negative attitudes to girls and their education as well as attitudes to early marriage.
What else can be done to address and overcome gender inequalities and stereotypes in a post-humanitarian disaster situation?
To help us mainstream gender and reach more girls and boys such as in Sierra Leone with our new educational radio programme, please donate here.