Long Read
15 May 2020

COVID-19 Simavi Framework of Action

Simavi’s mission is to work towards a healthy life for all. We are experts in prevention, behavioural change and development work, not experts in humanitarian relief work. Our Theory of Change and expertise areas enable us to respond effectively to COVID-19 and the impact on women’s right to health. We strive for a world in which all women and girls are socially and economically empowered to live a healthy life, free from discrimination, coercion and violence, thereby building on our strengths: WASH & SRHR, Women-centred, Rights-based and Evidence-Informed programming whilst Leaving no one behind.

COVID-19 and the related measures such as lock-downs will disproportionally affect women and have an impact on gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s rights.

The effect on women

COVID-19 and the related measures such as lock-downs will disproportionally affect women and have an impact on gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s rights. Women are already marginalised and have limited agency; the current situation is challenging and compromising them even more – both in the short and longer-term. See more on Impact on Simavi’s work.

Women are exposed to increased risk and vulnerable situations because: (1) Women are the ones who take care of children, elderly and sick people, and the burden of this unpaid work will increase during pandemic even if they themselves are sick; (2) The majority of health-care workers are women; (3) Women may have limited access to accurate, official information, (4) Women have limited decision making power and access to resources at home, work, and society; (5) Women are more likely to lose their income as they are often engaged in informal or part-time employment, hence particularly at risk of economic downturn, (6) Women make the most use of, and have different needs for, WASH and SRHR services.

The principles we live by

The health and well-being of our staff is critical.

We offer flexibility in helping staff to juggle work and caretaking duties.

We honour our partnerships.

We care for their health and wellbeing as individuals and organisations*, making sure adjustments such as working from home and remotely are viable and functioning smoothly. Simavi’s in-country partners are our key resource – they are our veins into the communities, they have eyes and ears on the ground, and are able to respond to the needs of the women and girls we aim to reach with our mission. Our partners have been able to build trust across communities and other stakeholders and where possible, continue their work and communication with our beneficiaries, even in times of total lockdown.

*For more information see Mental Health & Psychosocial Support – Considerations For Staff During Covid-19 Crisis (GBV AoR)

We are agile and flexible.

We realise that original work plans may no longer be valid or practical and we offer flexibility in response to shifting priorities, activities and fund allocation. We negotiate with donors on behalf of partner organisations, linking supply to demand.

We value local intelligence and local priority setting.

During crises, we engage immediately with affected communities to design and influence the required response measures, to build trust, ensure suitability and effectiveness, and to avoid indirect or unintended harms and ensure sharing of information frequently.

We listen and recognise and respect that women’s needs and lived experiences are different, unique and complex.

We continue to find and reach her.

Whilst applying a Women-Centred Approach, we make sure that our interventions respond to the needs and priorities of women and girls. Current lockdowns and social distancing measures, now more than ever, ask us to invest in finding ways and means to engage and ask women what their current lived experiences are, what priority needs they have, which barriers they face and how they want to address them. We listen and recognise and respect that women’s needs and lived experiences are different, unique and complex.

We stay on top of the evidence.

Despite the fact that this COVID-19 outbreak is putting us into unprecedented situations, it is also an opportunity to learn from available evidence to inform the strategies we implement.

Simavi’s adaptive programming in response to COVID-19

We must always consider the situation on the ground, case by case, and work on solutions that are accessible and effective for that particular population. Below we outlined several key strategies that inform our programme adaptations and (re-)design:

1. Inclusive communication and messaging

Our first priority, exacerbated by social distancing and (partial) lockdown situations, is looking for alternatives to continue our community engagement, creating a two-way communication process to be in contact with the women we work for. We listen to identify what is needed right now in terms of inclusive communication and messaging – ensuring we leave no one behind and also reach the most vulnerable. Based on their barriers, realities, perceptions, and defined needs, we refine/adapt our existing SRHR and WASH messages to integrate COVID-19 messaging aimed at behavioural change.

We also seek other ways to communicate our SRHR and WASH messages, via (1) Print Media – supporting other communication channels; (2) Mobile, digital, social media – obtaining a large reach; and (3) Mass media – raising awareness across audiences (informing and educating). At all times, we must consider the situation on the ground, case by case, and work on solutions that are accessible and effective for the particular population: who uses which channels? What are the channels used by the hardest to reach groups and those in vulnerable situations, i.e. women or very remotely located populations? How can they be reached?

We must also ensure that messages contain correct and reliable information, provided by a trusted source and are aligned with government measures and messaging. Where possible go beyond (but not contradictory to!) and at the same time understanding and addressing perceptions, myths, rumours and misinformation, and complementing what others do (avoid overlap). Messages need to be simple, clear and repetitive. We focus on prevention, offer solutions and avoid creating fear.

2. Finding those at risk of being left behind

Nothing about us without us. COVID-19’s impact is felt most amongst those who are already marginalised and living in vulnerable situations. Their participation in any response is essential. We need to re-look at who we had identified to be in vulnerable situations and verify if there are situations we have overlooked. We must understand existing and changing inequalities, making sure that we test our assumptions about what women and others in vulnerable situations need. Together with our in-country partners and their connections with existing community structures, we map those at risk of being left behind, alongside both long term and short term effects, in terms of (a) Risk and exposure to COVID-19 itself and (b) Risk and exposure to the effects of COVID-19.

Who are currently most marginalised and overlooked? What are barriers they face right now, how are inequalities and vulnerabilities shifting, and how can we establish contact/communication lines for them to voice their needs and receive accurate information? Important to take into account that social media might not reach most women and other populations at risk of being left behind; consider the use of radio and more direct delivery of messages through existing community structures.

3. Access to services and products

Lockdown situations complicate women’s access to SRHR and WASH services. With our partners, Simavi plays a role in raising awareness, advocating for continued access and supporting logistics. This applies to contraceptives, menstrual products, water and other essential needs to ensure that the most at risk have access to these services and products, especially with social distancing in act and lockdown. In terms of the supply chain, available products should be stored locally as much as possible.

The staff of our in-country partners, Community Health Workers or Peer Educators can join local response teams, taking up a role to facilitate access to SRHR or WASH products and services for the most marginalised.

In this response it is crucial that the voices of women are brought to the attention of government authorities at community level, national level and global level to address the needs of women in these times

4. Intensify Lobby and Advocacy

We strive to ensure that the human rights of women are respected, protected and fulfilled, especially during COVID-19. Analysing and influencing local, national and global policy processes currently done in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this response it is crucial that the voices of women are brought to the attention of government authorities at community level, national level and global level to address the needs of women in these times (e.g. lobbying at national level with regard to realistic, suitable and inclusive COVID-19 mitigation measures, at the global (between countries) and national
level (e.g. between rural and urban) for equitable distribution of aid, vaccines and products. We actively engage with authorities at different levels towards safe and continued access to WASH and SRHR services, and hold governments accountable to their commitments.

Under the Universal Human Rights umbrella*, we engage in the right to health under international human rights law; and its impact on other human rights, such as water, sanitation, sexual and reproductive health, seeking positive measures for marginalised groups especially when exposed to increased risk and vulnerable situations (addressing disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on them, but also negative impacts of the measures taken). Human rights principles are crucial: non-discrimination, access to information (reaching all), participation (variety of channels), accountability (e.g. safeguards, responsibilities).

*For more information see COVID-19 Guidance on Human Rights, OHCHR

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