Responding to crisis
Women were on the front lines of West Africa's Ebola crisis. From the earliest days, in cramped medical wards and rudimentary rural dwellings, they cared for dying patients and family members, witnessing extreme suffering. They soothed traumatized children, even as they mourned their own losses, and organized the rites to bury the dead. A disproportionate number caught the deadly virus themselves.
As the humanitarian response geared up, UN Women successfully carried out its coordination role by making sure that everyone involved recognized women's central role in preventing and responding to the crisis. We provided guidance to national partners on integrating gender issues across response and recovery strategies. In Sierra Leone, in partnership with Oxfam, we helped the government conduct a study assessing the gender dimensions of the virus. We assisted the National Ebola Response Centre in setting up a gender pillar, and brokered an agreement that UN organizations would make gender equality integral to emergency response programmes, including by filling gaps in sex-disaggregated data.
With UNICEF, UNFPA and WHO, we supported the training of 29,000 male and female volunteers who trekked through heavy rains and along treacherous roads to deliver prevention messages, literally door-to-door, to 1.5 million people. Training on infection prevention for health care workers has accompanied a campaign to restore confidence in health facilities, and persuade pregnant women and new mothers to return to using them. In Liberia, we partnered with the Ministry of Gender and Development to tap women's networks, including female traditional leaders and rural women's groups, as conduits to share information and assist in tracking transmission. This resulted in a drop in infection in rural areas. Radio shows that once focused mostly on gender-based violence sent out prevention messages and offered resources for psychosocial support.
Before the epidemic struck, UN Women had sponsored a long-running cross-border trade programme that had helped thousands of women establish prosperous businesses. As the epidemic crippled the economies of both countries, a new crisis has begun for many of them. UN Women stepped forward to ensure that hard-won gains in livelihoods would not be lost. Working with Liberia's Central Bank, we set up a pipeline of direct cash transfers. Easily sent by mobile phone, these provide a vital infusion so women can sustain their businesses until the worst of the crisis is past. high on the agenda.