An Open Letter to the UN Security Council Special Meeting on the Ebola Crisis in West Africa

January 13, 2024
5 mins read

By Women of the Mano River
Union

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Friday,
19 September 2014.

For only the third time in its history, the UN
Security Council has convened an emergency meeting on a health issue, on Thursday,
18 September 2014. Member States will discuss a plan of action to address the
unprecedented escalation of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and plan immediate
international action to address the need for qualified medical personnel,
equipment and related assistance to the region, so this does not become a
global public health crisis. In this discussion, it is critical to recognise
that the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has a clear gender dimension that must be
incorporated in interventions to ensure that the spread of this deadly disease
is halted.

Women
across the subregion, which is still recovering from decades of conflict, realise
that Ebola can only be defeated when they take responsibility for their
own health. They are taking the initiative through organised collective
action to implement preventive measures at community and national levels,
including leading sensitisation campaigns, installing and operating hand
washing facilities, and providing economic assistance to women in their
neighbourhoods and communities. These efforts need to be recognised, and
supported in line with international commitments in UNSC Res 1325 that advocate
that needs and perspectives of women be taken into account in post-conflict
reconstruction and development activities. The spirit of 1325 also reminds us
that equality and equity must be at the forefront in resource distribution and
that all countries in affected regions should have equal consideration and
access to allocated resources.

While
we appreciate the increased global attention to halting the spread of this
devastating disease, we are concerned about the absence of a gendered approach,
given that Ebola disproportionately impacts women. We note that:

At present, women make up 55 to 60
percent of those who have died from the disease, with Liberia reporting up to
75 percent of women among the victims (Washington Post, August 14, 2014).  Culturally-related practices
and traditions make them especially vulnerable. Women are the primary health
care providers for their families and communities, make up
the bulk of healthcare workers in hospitals as nurses and cleaners, as well as
handle bodies for burial;Women are impacted in other ways as well. Border closures and transport
restrictions due to the Ebola outbreak have negatively affected market trading
and subsistence farming, the main livelihood sources through which women
provide for their families and communities;Women and girls are disempowered by poverty, ignorance, disbelief, fear
and mistrust, due to longstanding and persistent discrimination in access to
education, media sources, and public health information. The failure of the
government and international community to deliver on much trumpeted MDGs and
other promises of health, education, economic opportunities and rights have increased
the vulnerability of women to EVD. ¬

In view of the above, the
women of the Mano River Union countries most deeply affected by the Ebola
outbreak call on the UN Security Council to implement sustainable, culturally
sensitive interventions which recognise and respect the dignity of the local
populace, and involve the participation of local communities and addresses the
deep rooted causes of the epidemic. These include:

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Gender disaggregation of data at all levels, including numbers of the
sick and dead, access to medical treatment as well as other social support
services and dissemination to the population;

A citizen-centered approach, prioritising gendered social and cultural
dimensions, to complement the military- style initiatives that currently
dominate;While we appreciate the level of
organisation and capacity inherent in a militarised approach, at the same time,
we raise concerns about the hyper-masculine structure of the military which can
have potential negative implications when sensitivity to gender issues are not
prioritised in program interventions. For example, this can result in increased
susceptibility of women to sexual violence. For such interventions to succeed
requires the following:That embedded within the initiatives
are social scientists and social workers tasked and resourced to address the
social dimensions; Effective joint
civilian leadership and control comprising local actors (government, civil
society and community based organisations) as well as international groups;Sustained, regular and democratic consultation with community leaders,
including women;Emphasis on the long-term sustainability of interventions to be achieved
via, i.a., training of a new generation of health care workers and authorities
(including increased numbers of women) to work for and with their fellow
citizens; promoting the involvement of local communities, especially women, in
designing and implementing new health care systems; and empowering and building
the capacity of civil society and community based organisations, particularly those
led by women, to respond to this outbreak and future emergencies; Addressing long-term structural constraints that make women and girls
more vulnerable, including lack of equal access to health care and quality
education.

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Mano River Women’s
Peace Network (Réseau des Femmes
du Fleuve Mano pour La Paix) is a non-governmental organisation that aims to
achieve lasting peace in West Africa’s Mano River sub-region, in addition to
raising awareness about gender and sustainable development. Its website is at –
http://www.marwopnet.org/welcome.htm

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An Open Letter to the UN Security Council Special Meeting on the Ebola Crisis in West Africa

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