May 4, 2020
EVE For Life & COVID 19
The gender situation in Jamaica under COVID-19 is not something totally unique to us, however, it is quite urgent. COVID-19 is a new particular strain of Coronavirus which causes a respiratory disease spread by droplets from the mouth or nose. Due to this, our government and the governments around the world have taken measures to minimise person-to-person spreading by enacting various levels of quarantine. These quarantine measures have seen the closure of schools, certain bank branches and various businesses have implemented ‘work from home’ operations where they have not faced closure, in accordance with the mandate.
Like most other essential services in Jamaica, Eve for Life has had to limit its operations to ensure the safety of our clients who face a unique problem on the island. A problem which
has not been directly addressed by our government. Eve for Life is an NGO which provides support for young women and children living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. These young women and children make up part of a particularly vulnerable class of people who may be especially susceptible to this horrible respiratory disease. Eve currently provides support to 115 young mothers, over 130 orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and 74 survivors of childhood sexual violence across the island. What does quarantine mean for many of the vulnerable young women and children Eve for Life serves who may not have the security of a stable paycheck and support system?
COVID-19 and Inequalities:
When disaster strikes, the reality of inequalities and marginalisation is heightened. Eve for Life serves a markedly marginalised community in Jamaica, the young women and children living with and affected by HIV. Many of these young women are from low-income households and are thus already present at various intersections of vulnerability. The cycle
of poverty is one such phenomenon which is unforgiving and near impossible to escape without outside and early intervention. This touches every intersection of one’s life and thus makes it hard to thrive, in fact, it makes living more expensive than it would for someone of means.
Due to the cycle of poverty, these young women never had an equal chance at formal education and those who did were derailed by sexual violence which either left them pregnant and or exposed them to HIV at a young age. As 42% of HIV cases in Jamaica are women, these young women, now young mothers, owing to societal norms and stigmas which see young mothers as being burdens on their families and the state, are oftentimes
displaced and left to fend for themselves. As such, they are oftentimes the primary caregivers and providers for their children and will still be looked to during this time to do as much.
As women are more likely than men to work in informal and oftentimes precarious occupations characterised by being unprotected, insecure and poorly paid, they now suffer that loss of weekly or even daily income with the mandatory quarantine in place. Economic opportunities are limited and as a result, young women no longer have a respite from abusive partners and face increased levels of abuse as tensions rise in households owing to
resulting food insecurities.
Not only is there a risk of physical and verbal abuse, but there is an increased risk of sexual abuse as male partners may now be more demanding of sexual gratification given the close
quarters and what they perceive to be their partners’ open-ended availability by virtue of confinement. This is particularly troubling as we find that male partners are oftentimes the decision-makers within households, even in and especially concerning sexual health and family planning. Eve for Life typically provides support in these cases with the help of counsellors, mentor moms who act as watch women and emotional support as well as
providing continued education regarding personal rights and responsibilities for these women.
Now that there is a limitation on these EFL services, gender-based violence and intimate partner violence suffered by these women and children may go unreported, unnoticed and unchecked. Particularly as educational and health service resources are being pooled into the COVID-19 response. Jamaica’s social welfare systems can only do so much and no more, and oftentimes address vulnerability as wholesale rather than on a community to
community basis. Therefore, social protections which may be in place, do not and may not be able to meet the needs of Eve for Life’s clients. That gap, coupled with movement restrictions and confinement to communities which may be hard to reach, has left Jamaica’s young women and children at a great personal risk.
These women and children lack the resources to ‘panic buy’ and hoard foodstuffs and the necessary disinfectants which enable safety in mobility. Owing to this, they may rely heavily on government subsidised programmes or aid from organisations such as Eve for Life, to fulfil their needs. Additionally, due to the closure of schools, children are expected to participate in eLearning and those who lack the necessary resources will undoubtedly be left behind in these times. These are those children whose parents do not have a sufficient level of education to properly monitor or even provide assistance to their children.
These children will suffer setbacks in their education, and without multilevel governmental participation in securing their academic futures, they will never be able to recover. There needs to be continued support for these women and children during these times and organisations such as ours, which serve vulnerable communities must be adequately supported so that those who need us will not be left behind in the conversation.