Below we suggest several simple actions to make sure your COVID-19 response programme is addressing the needs of men, women, boys and girls in your community.
Make sure that hygiene promotion staff include a mix of women and men. It is important that community members feel able to talk openly to hygiene promotion staff and voice their concerns. Having mixed gender hygiene promotion teams can be a key way of achieving this. If you are still doing house to house hygiene promotion, we recommend that hygiene promoters always work in pairs. This will help to maintain quality throughout their work (as pairs can provide feedback to each other) and is important for protection. For example, two individuals may be more able to discuss and respond to any concerns they see within families that they visit.
Consult women, men, girls and boys. Effective hygiene programmes require ongoing community consultation. This can be challenging to implement at this time given that organisations are being encouraged to minimise in-person interactions. We suggest setting up a range of mechanisms that will allow you to continue to engage with communities as the crisis progresses.
Be aware of local services to support women and families. Make sure hygiene promotion staff have a list of services available in the local area that they can refer people to. This could include mental health services, general health services, sexual and reproductive health services, women’s refuge centres or protection services and economic assistance programmes. Make sure to consult the organisations providing these services so that you are aware of how they may have adjusted their services given the COVID-19 outbreak. Where these services are lacking, advocate for their importance.
Engage local level organisations. In most settings there are established local organisations and networks to support women. This may include Disabled Person’s Organisations or local networks supporting older people. These groups are likely to represent a trusted voice within communities and may help your organisations adapt programming to the local context. Working with these groups may also enable certain initiatives to be sustained beyond the outbreak.
Consider how your COVID-19 response programme may contribute to or challenge gender stereotypes. At the moment lots of hygiene promotion is likely to use visual and mass media communication materials. The design of these should be gender sensitive. WaterAid has developed some useful guidance on ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for developing gender-aware materials at this time. For example they suggest ensuring gender balance in imagery and avoiding stereotypes that show women and girls as the only ones responsible for hygiene practices in the home. At this time it is important that hygiene programmes do not create an unrealistic burden of work for women and girls. Women and girls often have access to different information sources to men and boys so you may also need to utilise a range of delivery channels to ensure no one is left out. For example many organisations are using mobile phone messaging as a way of reaching people during COVID-19 response, but women remain much less likely than men to own a mobile phone.
Check that you are effectively reaching and engaging women, girls, men and boys. When monitoring your programmes consider collecting gender disaggregated data to make sure that your programmes are inclusive. For example if you established a phone hotline you could record information on the number of men who call compared to women. If you are doing household visits you could record which members of the household were spoken with. Make sure to also set up measures to allow for feedback from communities. When doing this you may need to actively seek opinions from men, women, girls and boys. Make sure to also include the opinions of other vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities or people with disabilities.
Enable women and girls to practice safe menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The following actions can be taken to promote access to products and enable safe MHM. Further ideas are available in this UNICEF resource and in this webinar.
If sanitary product supplies are limited or sporadic in your setting consider distributing these products to women and girls. If deciding to do this be mindful of variations in personal preferences related to MHM products and the effect that distribution could have on markets. Distributions should also consider prioritising groups within the community who may be more likely to lack access at this time. This could include health workers who may struggle to manage their menstruation hygienically given their increased workload and the additional PPE measures that are in place.
Consider establishing boxes of emergency MHM products in key locations such as health centres, schools (if these are still open) and in markets. Members of the population can take from these boxes as needed and donate to them if they are able.
Identify women and girls who may be isolating due to COVID-19 and ensure that they have all they need to practice safe MHM at this time.
If setting up temporary health facilities for COVID-19 make sure facilities are female-friendly, accessible for all users, and that bathrooms have access to soap, water, and a means of safely disposing of sanitary products. Focusing on this may also be key in many existing health facilities where this is lacking.
Make water points safe and accessible. Women and girls are more likely to be responsible for collecting water. In many regions of the world this may mean that they have to travel far from the house, wait in line with others and come into contact with surfaces (e.g. pump handles) that may be contaminated. Making water points safer and more accessible could help protect women and girls. Consider the following simple actions:
If women are travelling more than 30 minutes to get to a water point this creates a risk for transmission and means families are unlikely to have sufficient water to practice regular handwashing. Consider funding or advocating for increased water provision. Start by identifying ‘quick wins’ such as repairing dysfunctional water points, promoting rain-water harvesting, or encouraging people to store water of different quality within the home (for example, surface water or non-potable water can safely be used for handwashing).
Set up physical distancing measures at frequently utilised water points. In many countries people set up a ‘jerry can queue’. This involves placing your jerry can in line behind others and waiting your turn. This kind of system can be maximised during this time so that people do not have to stand near each other while queuing for water. Alternatively simple cues in the physical environment can be used to remind people to stand 2m apart. Cues can be painted onto concrete or stones or a small piece of wood can be laid across a path.
Set up handwashing facilities at water points. When people use water points they are likely to have to touch surfaces (like taps or pump handles) that others have come into contact with. Requiring everyone to wash their hands with soap before touching these surfaces can reduce contamination.
Try to use the COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to redistribute water collection responsibilities more fairly across homes and communities. This requires messaging that targets everyone, not just women, and working with local leaders to create longer-term change.