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Women lead Vanuatu's COVID-19 community response

21.04.20

Women in Vanuatu are leading health and hygiene demonstrations in their communities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On 25 March, women leaders from the Women I Tok Tok Tugeta (WITTT) network supported by ActionAid attended a World Health Organisation (WHO) and Vanuatu Ministry of Health (MoH) training on managing the local COVID-19 response in Vanuatu.

Now, these women are sharing their knowledge with their communities on the Eastern side of Efate Island by giving demonstrations of hand washing, hygiene and safe sanitation practices, to assist the MoH in community awareness raising efforts.

In the five following days, women reached 183 households and 915 people across Eton, Rentapau and Russet Plantation with this vital COVID-19 prevention information – and their outreach efforts are still underway.

“We are really pleased with how many people we’ve been able to reach so far. The more people we can talk to and share the knowledge with, the more likely we will be able to prevent any spread of this virus,” says Country Program Manager at ActionAid Vanuatu, Flora Vano.

The women quickly mobilised and within a day of receiving training, they have been gathering their communities to convey coronavirus health messages through a creative and engaging role-play of their own design. They are demonstrating effective handwashing techniques, cough and sneeze etiquette and, resourcefully, used their one-metre arm span to show social distancing.

“The community leaders were amazed to see how the women had prepared. We had one day of training and then we rolled out the demonstrations the very next day – it was all the time we needed because we already had a lot of the knowledge and the networks were ready to go. These efforts are a powerful demonstration of women-led localisation in practice,” says Flora.

Women are uniquely placed at the centre of community life carrying the bulk of caring responsibilities. When they are supported to lead crisis prevention and response, they are not only effective and galvanising leaders – ensuring everyone in their community is protected – they also create new spaces for women to lead, taking important steps towards gender equality and social justice. In this way, emergencies can become opportunities for change which is vital in a country where women continue to have no representation in the nation’s Parliament

In Vanuatu, women have stepped up to become trusted sources of information about the COVID-19 virus. In the process of doing so, these women have established themselves as leaders in times of crisis – a shift in social position that extends beyond this specific health crisis.

The WHO training was beneficial to developing a coordinated community response, although it also highlighted the challenges that communities across Vanuatu face to put key preventative measures in place.

“It is all well and good saying that we need to wash our hands with clean water and soap, but a lot of villages source their water from rivers and rain catchments so access to clean water isn’t always possible,” shared Flora.

This sentiment has been echoed by countries around the globe where ActionAid works including Kenya, India and Pakistan.

ActionAid has launched a global emergency appeal to support women on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. Women have localised knowledge, networks and capabilities that can prevent the spread of COVID-19.

That’s why, as we scale up our efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, ActionAid is working to empower women’s networks on the ground to lead coordinated responses to stop the spread of coronavirus in their communities.

Donate now to support local women’s leadership in COVID-19 prevention and response efforts worldwide.

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