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A Call That Saved My Baby’s Life—And My Own—During The Covid-19 Lockdown

Due to restrictions on public transportation and reduced capabilities at local health care facilities created by the COVID-19 lockdown, many expectant mothers in northern Uganda do not have access to lifesaving healthcare. Some have died while attempting to walk to the nearest health facility; others have died due to complications that cannot be handled at a village facility. Unfortunately, the loss of life extended to their babies. WGEF’s local team has been doing our part to reduce these heartbreaking situations by providing another option to pregnant women via our toll-free line. When expectant mothers reach out, we have been responding and transporting them to a capable facility. We have safely saved many.

On July 22, 2020 we received a distress call from one of our peer counselors, Alice, who was expecting.  Unfortunately, she’d developed complications that were too severe for the resources in her village.

When my water broke, I footed to the nearby health center, I was examined, the doctor told me my pressure is hiking and my blood count was low and I needed transfusion and be prepared for an emergency cesarean delivery as soon as possible to save both me and my baby. But their facility does not handle that and they referred me to Lacor hospital located in Gulu 68km away. It was already 9:00pm in the night and no public means was available, the health center where I was, did not have a standby ambulance. I was stuck and every one was getting worried as my condition continued to worsen. I straightaway remembered our toll-free services based at WGEF office and called them immediately for rescue. In less than two hours our Program Director picked me up and delivered us safely to Lacor hospital, who helped me deliver my live baby and saved me too. Thank you WGEF family we are both safe and healthy.

—Alice, Peer Counselor

There are currently 5,101 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Uganda. At WGEF, we continue to share information and encourage the community to adhere to the rules set by the government to combat the pandemic. We are paying special interest to maternal and child health, which are badly affected. We remain dedicated to providing uninterrupted assistance to disadvantaged women, and would be most grateful for any incoming assistance to help us continue fulfilling this mission.

Women’s Leadership During the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Beyond!

The elevation of women’s voices and leadership is crucial during and after the COVID-19 pandemic as women and girls are more likely to suffer the negative social and economic consequences of the crisis. As a women right’s organization, WGEF has prioritized the specific needs of women aspiring for leadership. We train, encourage, provides technical resources for women running for elected office in Uganda.

As Uganda is preparing for the 2021 general election. It’s time to encourage and support women to aspire for political elected positions at all levels. We believe women are natural leaders, at a grassroots level, the leadership of empowered women can have a significant impact on protecting women and girls because they understand the contextual needs of those communities and what works most effectively on the ground. While women are more at-risk due to the pandemic, they are also better placed to act as community-based social mobilizers and agents of change.

We are celebrating 35 powerful women from our leadership program! These confident leaders have already won their parties ticket to represent their community at different levels. Including our Senior Peer Counselor Prisca who has been elected to represent her community as Gulu City Women Representative. 

We believe having women in leadership positions will harness the positive impact of women’s leadership and address gender imbalance in decision making in Uganda’s COVID-19 response and influence other social issues affecting their communities, such as increasing funding, equitable policy development, and programs to prevent gender-based violence (GBV), provide SRH services, and offer specific economic assistance.

We can progressively build gender equal societies by championing and advocating for women’s leadership in their own communities.

Women and Girls Face Dire Consequences During the COVID-19 Outbreak!

Measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic—though necessary—have ushered in a host of adverse (if unintended) effects on the population of northern Uganda and beyond. Notably, an increase in gender-based violence (GBV), forced marriage and sexual exploitation.

What’s become increasingly clear is that there are very few social safety nets to support those whose lives have been upended by sudden confinement to the home, particularly girls and women. At WGEF’s Gulu Women’s Resource Center, we have registered hundreds of cases of domestic violence, a majority of which are related to sexual violence against children.

In one child protection assessment, impoverished girls are being pushed further into poverty during lockdown, increasingly trading sex for money, food, and even sanitary towels. We are also seeing an increase in child marriage, as adolescent girls are being married in exchange for dowry or bride price. Many children are scared at home.

While children are not considered to be at highest risk of contracting COVID-19, they are extremely vulnerable to secondary social and economic impacts, which could affect them long after lockdown measures have been eased. WGEF believes this critical issue requires urgent action and an expanded focus to protect the lives and futures of millions of young women!

To respond to this escalating need and reverse these dangerous trends, WGEF is seeking additional resources to achieve the following:

  1. Provide intervention, mediation, and support for young women and girls affected by child marriage and sexual violence; facilitate dialogue between community, families, and leaders
  2. Create awareness campaigns targeting the dangers of child marriage and early pregnancy through radio talk shows and printing/distributing
  3. Strengthen community-based advocacy and activism around human rights and justice.

Take action and support this initiative – Girls are out of school and at risk for early marriage, sexual exploitation, hunger and hopelessness. Together we can change this!

Periods don’t stop during a pandemic, and neither do we!

Girls in Northern Uganda rely on free sanitary pads distributed thru their school, but with the schools shut and community lockdown in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, many have no access to sanitary pads.

“We used to get sanitary pads from my school in Acet Omoro District. Now that schools are closed, I’m in my village with no access to sanitary pads I have to use pieces of paper (used newspaper), which is very uncomfortable,” says Milam 17-year-old. “I feel sad and embarrassed I am afraid to sit down for the possibility of soiling my clothes.”

The measures imposed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda have resulted in economic stress in families that are putting girls and women at a disadvantage. Many have been cut off from essential sexual and reproductive health services, economic activities, and social networks.

“When the government announced lockdowns, my family used their savings to stock on food and supplies, but sanitary pads were not considered. Those are normally considered a luxury. I am always glad to go to school as we can get the lucky girl pads from school,” Milam explains.

To respond to this crisis, we are working in our communities, with the District Task Force formed by the Ugandan government to distribute 8000+ sanitary towels to adolescent girls and women in Northern Uganda over the last two months.

“There are millions of girls affected by the COVID-19 pandemic having been used to accessing sanitary towels in schools,” Monica, WGEF Program Manager says.

Surviving Gender Based Violence During COVID-19

WGEF’s toll free is connecting survivors to safety and services!

COVID-19 not only is creating a global health emergency, it is creating a Gender Based Violence (GBV) emergency for women across the globe. As cases increase in Uganda, the emotional, physical and mental toll is untenable facilitating dangerous situations for women sheltering in place with their abusers. Women are experiencing increased extreme forms of violence.

Many GBV service providers are not physically reachable because of restrictions caused by COVID-19, WGEF has deployed our peer counsellors who use the toll free hotline to conduct tele-counseling services and referrals with the District Task Force.

“Every day, I receive more than 30 cases that need urgent help, counseling and other services. Many have been stigmatized because they are suspected to be in contacts with some of unfortunate individuals confirmed and battling COVID-19” – says Prisca

Through our toll-free line hosted at Gulu Women’s Resource Center, survivors are virtually linked to service providers for support including psychosocial, legal and medical services. Service providers include FIDA, Action Aid, as well as the Uganda Police Child and Family Protection Unit.