What We Have To Say

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.

May 15, 2020

COVID 19 & our Children's Education

Schools across the island have been closed since March 13th 2020 and will be closed until September 2020 as a measure to protect children from the spread of COVID-19. Though formal schooling is on hold, that has not halted education and students are expected to join classes virtually. What does that mean for children who don’t have the means or necessary tools to do so?

The continued closure of schools has exposed the digital divide present in Jamaica. The internet as ubiquitous as running water and like running water has not been accessed by many Jamaicans, particularly those in rural Jamaica. The digital divide refers to the gap between people who readily have access to internet supported devices such as smartphones and computers and internet access, and those who don’t. We don’t need to
answer whether or not basic internet access is a human right, the United Nations as of 2016 has already found that restricting access to the service is tantamount to denying human rights to information and freedom of expression, “..regardless of frontiers.” - Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

This pandemic has exposed the ways in which rural Jamaica has been excluded from the national education conversation. The Ministry of Education has sought to bridge the gap providing general school sessions over the airwaves. This is, of course, a positive in any book. Proof that the government recognises the limitations many of its youths are facing and aiming to correct the course. Unfortunately, this does not account for a number of things.

The children who are fortunate enough to attend private schools generally don’t have to worry about the digital divide having already a reliable internet connection at home, as well as their own devices so they can independently connect with their teachers. These children benefit from the 1-1 education that is touted as the best course of action for better learning as they can still get that tailored learning experience online. It’s fair to presume these
children come from homes where one or both of their parents hold positions in traditional occupations and that one or both of those parents have had formal education from a tertiary institution. What this means is, when those children need help, there will always be someone available to explain complex ideas and guide them in their studies. The same cannot be said for the boys, girls and young women Eve for Life serves. Many of them live fairly insecure lives and thus the closure of schools, while practical and prudent, leave them facing being proverbially left behind by the education system.

With generic school sessions covering a multitude of topics each morning, there is often no one available
to help, as the ‘work from home’ mandate does not and cannot apply to those who work in informal sectors. These children from lower-income homes do not have equal opportunity learning as, if they miss those would-be vital morning sessions due to unavailability of the necessary tools or infrastructure, the opportunity for reprisal is slim to nonexistent. Moreover,
due to their living situations, helping their parents or guardians to secure food and other necessities is deemed more valuable to their immediate needs than the longterm benefits of education, meagre as it is.

Eve for Life has been, with the help of local organisations and international partners, able to secure aid through donations for the children in its support network to be able to secure data from the two dominant telecommunications networks so they may have access to the necessary learning platforms. This is just the beginning, however, as the school term is hardly completed and the further limitations of these programmes have yet to be seen. What is clear, is that there needs to be continued support in the closing of the digital divide in Jamaica if progress is the name of the game.

June 30, 2020

COVID-19 & Vulnerabilities 

When the concept of intersectionality is broached, one can see how different social classifications and their possible overlapping may affect one’s standard of living. Intersectionality helps us not only understand these social classifications, whether they be socioeconomic or sociopolitical, but also help us know how best to tackle these issues which is the most important part of understanding the framework.

Where one falls on the intersectional Venn Diagram at birth, is through no effort on their part, nor fault of their own. This position in life is completely random and so, the framework helps us question whether or not ones place is fair, whether it be viewed as an advantage or disadvantage and to diagnose what ‘fair’ would be, fair here meant to be equitable.

Once one is cognizant of intersectionality, it can be clear how the young women and girls Eve for Life serve are doubly or even triply marginalised and why EFL itself is an essential service. It also becomes clear why the support of EFL’s mission is critical to Jamaica achieving it’s 2030 development goals. COVID-19 has highlighted and in some more unfortunate cases, stressed the already tentative status of many of the young women we serve.

COVID-19 and HIV

While there are not yet any certainties regarding the effects of COVID-19 on people living with HIV, the ramifications of the pandemic are palpable. The world has thus far seen millions of lives affected and it is no different here on our island. Eve for Life is, of course, particularly invested in the way this pandemic has affected young women and children living with and affected by HIV. In Jamaica, there are a reported 40,000 people living with HIV and around 42% of those people are women. There has been no report of people living with HIV having higher COV-19 infection rates which, of course, is a concern. And though they are considered to be immunocompromised, with proper management of their health via antiretrovirals means they are no more susceptible than uncompromised individuals, there remain those who cannot properly care for themselves in this time.

The Response

Understandably in this time, the medical industry has diverted almost entirely to treating COVID-19 as its primary concern. This means even private philanthropic organisations such as Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation has been reported to be diverting its efforts in HIV to combat COVD-19 .  

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What's Next?

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