By: Antoinette Sendolo
(Student Reading Mass communication at the University of Liberia)
Young women and girls in Liberia have been coping with many challenges ranging from social marginalization to sexual and gender-based violence. The outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has worsened these challenges, placing women and young girls into a more disadvantageous position in Liberia and the entire sub-region.
In our recent history, the deadly Ebola virus has now become Liberia’s number one enemy, thus putting young women and girls at very high risk of early death, loss of income, loss of family ties, loss of social mobility, delay in formal education and professional development. In Liberia, women and girls carry the responsibility of catering for the family by providing basic home services such as preparing meals and attending to sick relatives. These responsibilities make women more vulnerable to the virus.
While in the process of rendering services to sick relatives, women are most likely to contract the virus because they do not have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to safeguard themselves against the virus. What is worse is that many women lack basic first aid skills and knowledge to handle such deadly virus disease as Ebola. High illiteracy rate is largely a contributing factor to this precarious situation of women amidst the Ebola pandemic in Liberia.
Besides the challenges women face amidst this Ebola scourge in Liberia and West Africa, young women have experienced many challenges. Inaccessibility to quality education, unemployment and marginalization are but few of the challenges young women have experienced. These challenges have stalled the progress of women and have mostly kept them from the mainstream of national development.
Economically, Liberian women who mostly rely on informal business as a means of sustaining their families are unable to continue their daily activities because of the Ebola-scare. In the market places, women are experiencing drastic reduction in sales and hence a decrease in their already meager incomes. This situation is posing economic hardship on women, as they are currently finding it extremely difficult to meet their daily survival needs.
The Ebola menace also poses serious challenges to young women, most of whom are single mothers in the country. Living as a single mother in Liberia, one has to either work or engage in informal trade in order to sustain her family. With the present Ebola crisis which has put most of the country’s economic activities at a standstill, many women are now staying home to take care of their children, a situation that makes life more difficult for single mothers. Whichever way one looks at it, the prospect is grim.
The Ebola outbreak in Liberia also has great academic effects on women and girls. Due to the high rate of Ebola-related deaths across the country, all academic activities are currently at standstill, thereby exposing young women to lots of educational setbacks and disadvantages.
As Liberia tries to recover from years of civil unrest which left young women and girls as the worst affected, most women and girls have been trying to recover from educational paralysis by competing with their male counterparts. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Ebola virus has posed a great setback to the educational sojourn of women and girls in the country. Compared to their male counterparts, women and girls were not given equal opportunity to seek education in the years back.
Since the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia, women have also been greatly affected by the closure of major health centers in the country. As it is a fact that women are mainly faced with many health complications, they often need to seek medical care in order to keep healthy. Amongst the vulnerable women, pregnant women have been badly affected by this situation. Many pregnant women have lost their lives not to the Ebola virus but to the resultant conditions created by the outbreak. Health workers in the country are afraid to accept patients including pregnant women who are at the point of bringing forth their unborn babies. It is reported that health workers are rejecting sick people in order to keep safe from contracting the virus, something which has caused the death of many young women in the country. Rejection of patients with other common illnesses, which could probably be cured, has led to the death of many young women as well.
Given the poor health care system in Liberia, the country subsequently became unstable as a result of the virus which has claimed over 1000 lives. The spread of the virus remains unabated, thus prompting assistance from all levels of the international community. The World Health Organization (WHO), the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other related infectious disease control agencies are extending a helping hand in a bid to bring the Ebola infection under control, but the risk of women being affected still remains high.
However, The Spread of the disease continues, a situation that has now become an international problem, sparking the concerns of regional, sub-regional, continental and global organizations. These organizations are now donating huge sums of money to fight the spread of the virus which most experts believe is unprecedented compared to other cases which erupted in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and during the early 1990s in Uganda.
While we welcome these donations and supports to the fight against Ebola in Liberia and the sub-region, what we believe is most needed to protect women and girls is a coordinated effort strictly targeting the spread of the virus among women and girls. Women and girls need special attention in order to protect themselves against the virus as well as to deal with the many challenges they face as a result of the virus outbreak in the country. If special attention is being paid to them the death caused by the virus among women and girls and other related issues will be contained.
Many thanks to the Young Women Christian Association of Liberia (YWCA) for providing some Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for its volunteers and for taking the lead in carrying out awareness on the prevention of the virus exclusively for women and girls. Since the outbreak of the virus in Liberia, the YWCA has played a major role in educating women and girls on the prevention of the virus.
Liberia, a little West African country recovering from nearly 14 years of devastating civil conflict is currently facing its worst times as the Ebola pestilence rages on. Liberia has been recorded the highest number of deaths amongst the three West African countries mostly affected by the Ebola epidemic in recent times.
The Ebola virus is not just a public health crisis. It has also become a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones with women being the most vulnerable.