Source: The Gaurdian
More than 50 women have accused aid workers from the World Health Organization and leading NGOs of sexual exploitation and abuse during efforts to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In interviews, 51 women – many of whose accounts were backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers – recounted multiple incidents of abuse, mainly by men who said they were international workers, during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola crisis, according to an investigation by the New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The majority of the women said numerous men had either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job or terminated contracts when they refused.
The number and similarity of many of the accounts from women in the eastern city of Beni suggests the practice was widespread, with three organisations vowing to investigate the accusations uncovered. UN secretary-general António Guterres called for the allegations to be “investigated fully”.
Some women said they were plied with drinks, others said they were ambushed in offices and hospitals, and some said they were locked in rooms by men who promised jobs or threatened to fire them if they did not comply.
“So many women were affected by this,” said one 44-year-old, who told reporters that to get a job she had sex with a man who said he was a WHO worker.
She and the other women spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Some identifying details have been removed to protect their identities.
“I can’t think of someone who worked in the response who didn’t have to offer something,” she added.
Some women were cooks, cleaners and community outreach workers hired on short-term contracts, earning $50 to $100 (£40 to £80) a month – more than twice the normal wage. One woman was an Ebola survivor seeking psychological help.
At least two women said they became pregnant.
Many women said they had not until now reported the incidents for fear of reprisals or losing their jobs. Most also said they were ashamed.
Some women said abuse occurred as recently as March.
The WHO said it was investigating the allegations.
“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated,” it said in a statement.
“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” it said, emphasising that “we do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners”.
WHO pointed out that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse”.
“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal,” it said.
Despite “zero tolerance” policies and pledges by the UN and NGOs to crack down on such abuses, as exposed in Haiti and Central African Republic, reports of such behaviour continue to surface.
Most aid agencies and NGOs contacted by the New Humanitarian – a nonprofit news agency – and the Thomson Reuters Foundation said they had received few or no claims of sexual abuse or exploitation against their workers in Congo.
The investigation, conducted over almost a year, found women who described at least 30 instances of exploitation by men who said they were from WHO, which deployed more than 1,500 people to the government-led operation to control the outbreak.
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation
More than 70% of displaced and refugee women in Africa have seen a rise in domestic violence in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic, a survey published on Thursday found.
KAYA, Burkina Faso — Ramata Sawadogo was eight weeks pregnant when she was chased from her home by gunmen in May of last year. The 30-year-old spent the next few months running from village to village, in search of refuge and health care, in Burkina Faso’s center-north region.
At times, Sawadogo walked for more than a week with her six children to reach another town. Other times, she’d sleep in abandoned schools, all the while concerned that the stress and lack of food and medical care would harm her unborn baby.
“When I walked a lot, I got tired and was worried about the pregnancy,” Sawadogo said. Seated in a health clinic in a makeshift displacement site in Kaya town, where she now lives, she cradled her 7-month-old, grateful he is alive and healthy.
Violence linked to Islamic militants, local defense militias, and the army is escalating across Burkina Faso, killing almost 2,000 people this year, with deaths set to surpass the number of fatalities from 2019, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Attacks have forced more than 1 million people from their homes and shuttered 12% of the country’s health facilities.
Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and attacks have impeded their ability to access sexual and reproductive care, including prenatal and postnatal services and contraception.
“Terrorist attacks constitute a new barrier to access of maternal healthcare services in Burkina Faso,” according to a recent study in The BMJ. The report, considered the first to document the effects of insecurity on health care in the country, found that in the month following an attack, assisted deliveries in medical facilities reduced by almost 4% and multiple attacks had graver consequences, impacting antenatal care and cesarean sections. The problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, the report said.
On a visit to Kaya in September, Devex spoke with eight displaced women who said they have struggled to get timely reproductive and contraceptive help due to violence. Many were chased to unfamiliar towns where they did not know where or how to access services. In some cases, armed men destroyed pharmacies, making it hard to find medicine.
After Sawadogo was chased from her home, she sought prenatal care in the first small town she fled to. But there were too many patients and too few staff members at the clinic, so she was unable to see a doctor, she said. Before she could return, the town was attacked, forcing her to flee once again. It was not until arriving in Kaya, five months into her pregnancy, that Sawadogo had her first checkup for the baby.
The harder it becomes for women to reach health centers, the more risk they face — specifically for those who have been displaced, aid groups warn.
“These women need to be followed during their pregnancy until full term. If they are not followed, they can have a miscarriage,” said Yvette Yoda, a midwife working with Marie Stopes International, an aid group focused on providing contraceptives and safe abortions for women.
“With the displacement, they are in areas that they don’t know, they have no information,” she said.
Yoda has been with the organization for five years and used to work in rural areas, providing women with contraceptives and raising awareness about reproductive health. But now she says most of those areas are off-limits.
As violence in the country escalates, aid groups are scrambling to adapt. Last year, Marie Stopes halted most of its activities and readjusted its strategy, relocating staff members from remote and more insecure villages to larger towns, such as Barsalogho and Kongoussi in the Center-North. It also established clinics closer to the displaced population.
In Kaya — where the government estimates nearly 500,000 displaced people have sought refuge, according to Boukare Ouedraogo, the town’s mayor — Marie Stopes set up four clinics adjacent to makeshift displacement sites. The group also has mobile teams that visit a different town each week, depending on the needs.
The group’s biggest shift, however, was to expand its services, said Sylvain Ricard, Burkina Faso country director for Marie Stopes. Prior to the violence, the organization almost exclusively offered family planning services, such as those for contraceptives, but today it provides cervical cancer screenings, testing, and treatment for diseases spread through sex, including HIV/AIDS, as well as gender-based violence counseling.evelopment's most important headlines in your inbox every
“When you see people coming to Kaya with a lot of needs — food, shelter, water and sanitization, health — it’s difficult only to provide family planning,” Ricard said. Even though the organization is not able to access remote villages as easily, more people have been helped since it moved services closer to those displaced, he said. As of August, more than 100,000 people accessed Marie Stopes services this year, compared with 96,000 people at the same time last year, he said.
Other aid groups say the violence has made it harder to reach women, particularly those who never used the services before and might not know they exist.
Pathfinder, an international aid group providing women with access to sexual and reproductive health services, has largely been cut off from certain areas, especially in the hard-hit eastern region. Motorcycles purchased when the country was calmer cannot be used anymore because they are associated with motorcycle-riding attackers who target villages, said Lydia Saloucou, country director for Pathfinder in Burkina Faso.
“Our plan was to talk with more women, and we’re not able to do this,” she said.
Her team has tried to adapt by personalizing its approach, giving phone numbers of health workers to women in case they need help and relying more on the community health system to communicate information about reproductive services, she said.
Pathfinder is working with the Ministry of Health to find longer-term solutions to make it easier for women to get help closer to home. “This insecurity will not end early, and we need to adapt,” Saloucou said.
Even in safer, easier-to-reach parts of the country, health workers are struggling to cope because the influx of displaced people is overwhelming clinics.
Insecurity has shuttered five health centers around Kaya, forcing the area’s main health center to provide care for eight times the usual number of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross told Devex during a visit to the town in September. ICRC is helping the health facility by providing beds and training for health workers, yet nurses at the hospital’s maternity ward told Devex they have to discharge women 24 hours after giving birth instead of the required 48 hours, because there is nowhere for them to rest.
“There isn’t enough space for everyone,” said Issa Sawadogo, the nurse in charge of the center. At least 80% of the women she sees are displaced, she said.
Coronavirus restrictions imposed by the country in March, such as closing public transport and restricting movement between cities, have further reduced women’s access to care.
The amount of people getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and using family planning services has decreased by approximately 15% between the last half of 2019 and the first six months of this year, said Boureihiman Ouedraogo, director for the Burkinabe Association for Family Well-Being, a local aid group.
For women already impacted by violence, the virus is just another challenge to overcome.
Last year, 26-year-old Fatimata Sawadogo fled to Kaya when her village was attacked. It took time for her to find a health clinic that could remove the contraceptive implant from her arm, which was not working, she said. But by the time she figured out where to go, she was told not to leave her house due to coronavirus restrictions.
Not wanting to get pregnant, while already struggling to feed and shelter her two children at the displacement site, she refused to have sex with her husband until she could get a new implant.
“I’d prefer not to be pregnant now,” she said. “We already have enough concerns.”
Source: Nyasa Times
Some chiefs in the Southern Region have backed an amendment of the abortion law that allows for the termination of unwanted pregnancies under certain conditions and are persuading members of Parliament to pass the Termina pf Pregnancy Bill when it is tabled for debate during the current sitting of the National Assembly.
Produce innovative versions of a staple food for a regional market. Feed hungry people, now and in the future. While you're at it, train farmers - mostly women - in improved agriculture techniques, financial management and hygienic storage techniques. And, oh yes, provide jobs in your community.
Windhoek, Namibia – When Bertha Tobias first headed to the streets of Namibia’s capital last week, she had one clear goal in mind: Shut it all down.