On March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation launched their inaugural Gender Justice Café series with A Global Look at Gender Justice. With the help of our series sponsor Revision Energy, NHWF created a space for a conversation about how organizations in New Hampshire elevate and raise the voices of women and girls internationally. Our featured panelists were: Elsy Cipriani of New Generation; Blair Demers and Mary Kiguru from Education for all Children (EFAC); Katherine Kolios from Rain for the Sahel and Sahara; and Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau from the Organization for Immigrant and Refugee Success (ORIS).
The Gender Justice Café is a series of statewide conversations around important topics that impact equity in women and girls, and beyond. In our inaugural series event on the topic of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women and girls globally, there were clear themes among women and girls locally and regionally including unemployment, access to healthcare and an increase of domestic abuse.
Across the board panelists shared the stories of the women and girls they work with that have faced unemployment and financial instability due to the pandemic. Disproportionally women of color were more severely affected by job loss because they’re more likely to work frontline and essential jobs and forced to choose between job security and taking care of their family. Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau, said that many women in their program had to stop working due to home schooling, and their older daughters were more likely to step in as babysitters so their parents could work, which kept those girls from their education. Musyimi-Kamau’s organization ORIS was able to get involved in many cases to help provide access to online learning through education of programs such as Zoom and providing laptops to families in need. Additionally, through their farming program run by the refugees, women and families in need were able to produce 96,000 pounds of food, to help the community and feed their families.
Access to Health Care
Access to health care and job security often go hand in hand. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many people lost access to their healthcare coverage. Elsy Cipriani shared that many women have put their health on hold to take care of their families, but also out of fear of going to the hospital and potentially getting exposed to the virus. Cipriani also noted that many health care centers only focused on taking care of patients with COVID-19 and put annual check-ups and preventative care on hold, which put many women and families at risk for missing signs of serious underlying health issues. In Kenya, access to health care has been even more difficult for women and girls during the pandemic. Blair Demers and Mary Kiguru both spoke about how there’s limited access to personal health items such as sanitation towels, which causes women and girls to miss work and school. Currently women in Kenya don’t have reproductive rights, however through the work at EFAC, mentors and counselors help to educate women and girls about their bodies and reproductive health. Mary Kiguru stated, “Empowering women with education allows them to take charge of their life, and giving women and girls access to health care is the best thing we can do for them right now.”
Increase of Domestic Violence
Due to necessary quarantine lockdowns around the world to flatten the curve, many women and girls were forced into isolation with their abusers. Statistics around domestic violence show reports have drastically decreased through the pandemic; however, this is not due to fewer cases, but because women haven’t been able to report the abuse. Elsy Cipriani said, “This lack of information makes it difficult to get funding to support women.”
Katherine Kolios noted that through her work with Rain, she’s been able to use the rights to child marriage as a close approximation to determine violence against women saying, “75% of women are married by 18, and 28% are married by 15 and this power imbalance puts women in vulnerable positions.”
Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau has been able to help identify domestic abuse situations through the ORIS online afterschool program designed to help students keep on track. By listening to the kids talk about their home life, ORIS mentors were able to identify hardships such as lack of food and domestic abuse. Similarly, Mary Kiguru has worked with her program counselors to educate women about abuse and to teach negotiation skills that could help women and girls defend themselves in escalated situations.
Although there are many secondary issues that were brought to the surface due to the pandemic, across the board panelists were able to identify silver linings to help women and girls in their programs. Such initiatives include creative ways of communication online, and developing grassroots partnerships to strengthen support for women.
Part of the goal of Gender Justice Café is to help answer the question: “How do we move from ‘Just Is’ to ‘Justice’”? When the panel was asked this question, all described the importance of philanthropy to support programs and organizations that help women and girls, but also the necessity to include men and boys in the conversation. Katherine Kolios noted, “When everyone is involved in the conversation, change is more sustainable and has a more systemic impact.”
Future Gender Justice Café conversations in 2021 will include topics such as climate justice, racial equity and intersectionality, as well as transgender justice. For more information about this event and future events, please visit https://nhwomensfoundation.org/gjc/.
Article by contributing author Samantha Bradbury-Koster