Raising the Voices of Domestic Workers Amidst COVID-19
The Center For Livelihood Advancement (CFLA) equips womn migrant workers with survival skills as they move to work within and outside Kenya. In the wake of COVID-19, while there is need to observe some set of health protocols, domestic workers continue to face challenges in accessing basic preventive commodities like masks, sanitisers, gloves, and soap due to their low economic status and the challenges of balancing livelihood needs and their health and safety needs.
The situation of domestic workers is further exacerbated by the nature of their job. Working in other peoples’ homes, and even more often in multiple homes, means that they come in contact with people, items and services that could be harbouring the virus, hence increasing their exposure. In spite of the inherent risks of COVID-19 infections, womn domestic workers are in a situation where they are compelled to willingly continue going out to work as many domestic workers are in the low-income earners bracket, and depend on their daily earnings to support their families.
With most employers and their children at home and a new demand to maintain high hygiene levels to keep COVID-19 away, workload for domestic staff increased. There were reports of such increase without commensurate pay raise, while others have been denied their pay entirely. Many domestic workers also experienced different forms of discrimination, violence and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers. Through the media advocacy of CFLA and the distribution of necessary work materials such as hygiene kits, information on gender-based violence hotlines and documentation of experiences of domestic workers, female domestic workers are now able to use a toll-free number to report any form of violence they’re experiencing in their work.
CFLA produced a video documentary of the experiences of female domestic workers in Kenya, which drew the attention of Kenyan national television stations, making the issues affecting domestic workers during COVID-19 an active agenda in the media and informing the response programme of the government and other stakeholders. The media advocacy provided an opportunity to call for the inclusion of domestic workers in broader human rights policies in Kenya.
Taking the Lead Towards Change in São Tomé and Príncipe
São Tomé and Príncipe is a small archipelagic state and a young democracy. It has a deficit of mechanisms of accountability and transparency in decision making processes and civil participation. Associação São-tomense de Mulheres Juristas (ASMJ), the female lawyer association of São Tome and Príncipe, is one of the womn organisations working to advance and promote womn’s rights through education and activism. They raise awareness and promote studies on issues affecting the rights of womn womn the aim of which is to highlight womn’s participation in decision-making processes.
Until April 6, 2020, São Tomé and Príncipe was one of the few countries in the world without any confirmed case of COVID-19. For this reason, the citizens downplayed the risk of the pandemic and public health institutions did not launch awareness campaigns on time leaving many unaware of the pandemic, particularly those in local communities. Through a joint civil society initiative ASMJ organised a campaign from March 28 to April 3, 2020, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, to bridge the awareness gap in communities across the country. They organised a caravan and held meetings in the communities. They also produced awareness posters and messages in different local languages in addition to visiting various districts where they held meetings with community members educating them on the need to take necessary precautions and protect themselves from the virus.
With majority of the at-risk population being womn who are located in the rural areas due to their daily petty trading and farming activities, ASMJ adopted the use of radio campaigns with messages in local and official languages to sensitise communities in addition to providing the womn with hygiene kits. Until this campaign, messages of COVID-19 prevention were coming only from government officials, and citizens had little trust in these government-led initiatives. With the knowledge that the coronavirus would exacerbate pervasive gender inequalities and discrimination against womn, ASMJ mobilised feminist organisations to engage in community visits to talk one-on-one with womn.
Through this effort, Civil Society Platform to Fight COVID-19 was born. It is a network of various civil society organisations and volunteers working to raise awareness and stop the spread of COVID-19 among the most vulnerable populations in the country. The platform helped to concentrate
fundraising efforts and create synergy of activities. According to ASMJ’s president, Mariam Masini, “the awareness raising campaign was organised in less than two weeks and the level of mobilisation of feminist organisations, volunteers and financial resources was intriguing. It is rare to see in São Tomé and Príncipe such an outcome in a very short period”.
ASMJ noted that this was a remarkable initiative which is a new trend that they began to see in their society last year “where women stand together in initiatives and the emergence of informal groups, proving that when we are united, we can make the impossible happen”.