“We’ve set up a WhatsApp group with our Women Champions, nine community leaders who are based in the areas where we work, and who lead the work on the ground,” says Khardiata Ndoye Pouye, ActionAid Senegal Women’s Rights Officer, describing the Senegal COVID-19 response.
“Everyday, I use WhatsApp to check in with them and we speak about the situation in their communities… They all have an amazing mindset – they are very strong.”
The WhatsApp group is a means for women on the coronavirus frontlines to share the most up to date information with each other and with ActionAid. The two-way flow of communication is vital to hearing directly from women on what they need most to prevent the spread of the virus and to provide them with much-needed hygiene and prevention resources so they can protect their communities.
“The Women Champions WhatsApp group has been a great platform for raising awareness among women. We have also distributed hygiene materials, posters, and we are looking into creating video messages for social media,” says Nathaly Soumahoro, ActionAid Senegal Programme and Policy Manager.
Nine women leaders from rural communities across Senegal are part of the Women Champions group. They communicate daily with ActionAid, relaying challenges and discussing support needs as they arise. Collectively they are becoming empowered as community leaders during the global health pandemic.
Nationwide lockdowns have exacerbated the deeply entrenched challenges women in Senegal face on a daily basis such as food insecurity and gender-based violence. ActionAid has mobilised the existing cereal bank system to provide women with access to basic food supplies to feed their families.
“One of my big worries is violence against women and exploitation. We have a situation where all families are locked down and stuck in their homes. And a lack of money in households causes tension,.” says Khardiata.
Reports show a dramatic increase in levels of gender-based violence (GBV); a trend seen globally with reports of GBV surging since the beginning of mandated lockdowns. It is estimated that 60% of women in Senegal experience GBV, this is exacerbated by times of crisis. ActionAid Senegal is advocating to the government to apply a gender-responsive lens to ensure women are afforded the resources to protect themselves through the pandemic.
“Like so many women in lockdown around the world right now, you continue to do your job, and also do your work for the house, and also look after your children. You’re always juggling. But at the same time I’ve been so glad to have the option to continue my work.”
As the unprecedented health crisis restricts travel and movement, ActionAid continues to advocate and emphasise the need to empower local women with the knowledge, skills and support to become community leaders in a time of crisis.