Ebola: No lasting recovery without a special focus on women, says UNDP

Feb 27, 2015

Women need to be at the center of all efforts to help Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone recover from the Ebola crisis, according to a study by UNDP.

The epidemic has affected women disproportionately because of the essential role they play as caretakers, health personnel, farmers and small traders. For instance, as of December 2014, women represented 62 percent of the sick in Guéckédou, Guinea where the epidemic first appeared, and up to 74 percent in Télémilé, north of the capital Conakry.

“Buried in the aggregated impact is the plight of Ebola’s voiceless victims and agents of change—women and children,” say the authors of the study, adding that “Ebola response and recovery, and national development strategies must be gender-sensitive in addressing the associated negative impacts on women and girls.”

More than 800,000 women will give birth during the next 12 months in all three countries. But with the severe shortage of health facilities and professionals, compounded by the fear of getting infected in a clinic, many could die without proper care. In the three countries, HIV screenings have decreased by 90 percent.

UNFPA has also warned that teenage pregnancy, early marriage and violence and exploitation of women are on the rise.

The document says improved health and birthing facilities are urgently needed to prevent mothers from dying in childbirth.

The study also calls for the creation of specific safety net mechanisms, such as cash transfers and employment schemes for women as survivors and heads of households. It also calls for longer-term support for women in agriculture or as entrepreneurs. Because their livelihoods have often dwindled or disappeared, many women who used to received funds from microfinance institutions have been unable to repay their loans.

In addition, health officials and organizations working to combat the Ebola epidemic must involve women in efforts to raise awareness about the disease, share risk mitigation measures, and discuss prevention and eradication.

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