No one has been completely immune to the impacts of COVID-19, although some groups have felt these impacts more acutely. Our recent coverage has highlighted COVID-19’s impact on girls and women: girls’ education is under threat; maternal and reproductive care is being compromised; women’s and girls’ unpaid work is increasing; and we’re seeing elevated rates of intimate partner violence.
Here, we spotlight three different women-led grassroots organizations that are identifying COVID-19’s unique impacts on women and girls and are responding with gender-specific support.
Flone Initiative in Kenya
Flone Initiative is a women-led organization based out of Nairobi, Kenya, working to make public transportation safer and more accessible for women and vulnerable groups — both as passengers and as conductors. According to the organization, 76% of female conductors have either witnessed or experienced sexual harassment, and Flone Initiative is working to change that.
A key piece of Flone Initative’s work is their Women in Transport (WIT) program, which “seeks to attract, retain and promote women in the transportation industry by providing women with the skills and support necessary to realize a safe, sustainable and lucrative working environment that is free from violence.”
Though women make up less than 10% of the workforce in the Kenyan public minibus industry, Flone Initiative believes more women should be able to access safe, sustainable employment opportunities in public transport. For the women who already work in this industry, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected their lives and incomes.
According to the organization, 52% of women in the public transportation industry are currently unemployed, though 83% are the sole breadwinners of their family. In addition to spreading awareness about the current reality for these women workers, Flone Initiative has opened a fund to support their women drivers through direct cash transfers and the provision of surgical masks and hand sanitizer.
Fe-Male in Lebanon
Fe-Male is a Lebanon-based civil feminist collective, working towards gender equality by empowering young women leaders and fighting discriminatory norms and policies.
Recently, Fe-Male organized a series of distribution events to ensure that women in the Karantina area of Beirut have access to menstrual products. According to the organization, prices of menstrual products have skyrocketed — by 500% — as a result of the pandemic-related economic crisis and the Beirut blast in August 2020. Well before the end of the year, their projections indicated that over 50% of Lebanese women would struggle to afford menstrual products, experiencing what is referred to as “period poverty,” by the end of 2020.
Fe-Male explains that when the Lebanese government met last July to discuss subsidizing basic commodities, menstrual products were not mentioned in the discussion. Fe-Male is taking action to address the unmet needs of women and girls in their community and hopes to increase the number of distribution events they run, reaching marginalized communities throughout Lebanon.
Women for Human Rights in Nepal
Women for Human Rights (WHR), a women-led organization in Nepal, fights against discrimination on the basis of marital status, ensuring that all single women in the country have “socio-cultural, economic and political rights.”
In 2020, as the Nepali government opened quarantine centers, WHR opted to open a women-run and women-only quarantine center in collaboration with the government and with support from UN Women, which provided masks, hand sanitizer, and food. In addition to providing dignity kits — which include basic items like soap, towels, menstrual products, underwear, and more — to the women residents, the center offers women a safe environment in which to quarantine, especially for Nepali migrants who returned to their home country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For migrants who are unable to return home, WHR can support in securing access to local women’s shelters.
The value of grassroots initiatives
Women-led, on-the-ground initiatives won’t completely address the ways women and girls have been impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play a vital role. Not only do these initiatives cast light on the gendered pandemic impacts that can easily be overlooked, they are providing context-specific responses — bridging the gap between women and girls in their local communities and the support and resources they deserve.