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Women’s NGOs raised the consciousness of women to challenge prevailing myths that spousal abuse, rape and sexual abuse were the fault of women. Feminist NGOs forced public political discourses and attitudinal changes in society’s views on domestic violence and violence against women.
These NGOs are working tirelessly towards achieving equality and equity for all women in society. Since the novel COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in the problems faced by women in already challenging environments. The arrival of the virus has placed severe strains on the health sector of the Caribbean, with a huge ripple effect on its economy. Our research has revealed that 90% of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) expressed concerns about the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their beneficiaries, many of whom are experiencing job insecurity and unemployment.
Professor Heintz, University of Massachusetts, opined the COVID-19 pandemic is a multi-dimensional crisis which could intensify existing socioeconomic inequalities and vulnerabilities. Heintz noted the concurrent care crisis related to unpaid care work in the home, which includes direct and indirect caregiving services and home-schooling is predominantly performed by women. COVID-19 restrictions have caused the closure of informal and formal sectors, which have direct financial implications for women and can therefore perpetuate further socio-economic inequalities. Women are, therefore, turning to NGOs for assistance.
On the front line of this battle are the Caribbean NGOs seeking assistance and representing women during this period. NGOs offer an essential service. However, despite the range of services, research done by CPDC reveals that many of the region’s NGOs struggle to achieve their mission of being a safety net for their beneficiaries due to limited funding. Therefore, there is a need to bolster the support of these small NGOs who serve and protect women in our communities.
With the state lockdowns continuing, women and girls are forced to remain close to their abusers with no potential escape or getaway. During the first phase of state-enforced lockdown, there was a sharp rise in violence against women, which Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, describes as the ”shadow’ pandemic. Yet, only two in ten Caribbean women NGOs are currently able to provide temporary shelter for women. The availability of shelters/accommodations is an integral part of a holistic response to women facing violence within their homes. Shelters provide a space for women to be protected while rebuilding a life independent of their abusers.
Amid the pandemic, CPDC acknowledges the struggles of women and the added stresses of online learning for children combined with their household responsibilities and work. The Centre believes NGOs can and do play a key role and represent a haven for many women in the region. However, NGOs cannot provide this support alone since women now require additional support and services. Therefore, we plead with all Governments, donor agencies and individuals to assist a local NGO in their drive to help the women in our community.
With additional funding, NGOs will be able to enhance and sustain their interventions. Despite the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caribbean region needs to preserve the human rights of women and girls. In this regard, the Centre implores our Governments to recognise grassroots and women’s organisations as essential services and urges the utilisation of gender-responsive budgeting in their development responses.