DRC: Women At The Forefront Of Ebola Response
As the Democratic of the Congo’s (DRC) Equateur province battled its 11th Ebola outbreak, women leaders were often at the forefront of the response, empowering other women with information on staying safe from Ebola.
Eugenie Mwanya, a former mayor of Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, coordinates Mary of Mercy Sustainable Development Centre, a women’s economic empowerment group that is part of a coalition of women’s associations boasting more than 100 members.
She rears chickens and uses the money she makes from selling eggs to support the work of her group.
When Mwanya goes to her local market to sell her eggs, she also takes time to speak to women about Ebola. Women play an important role in keeping their communities safe from the virus as they often take care of sick people, as well as the bodies of those who have died. Forty-four percent of the 130 Ebola cases in this outbreak were women.
With the 11th Ebola outbreak winding down, the women listened to Mwanya explain how they needed to remain vigilant.
They were encouraged to maintain important hygiene measures. Mwanya also warns about COVID-19 which continues to spread in the DRC “Ebola is coming to an end, but you must still avoid handshakes and continue wearing masks to lower the risks of COVID-19 infection,” she implores. “Let’s continue observing the preventive measures.
Mwanya also reaches out to men. Here she speaks to a market leader about how many of the key approaches in tackling Ebola such as contact tracing and infection prevention and control are important in the COVID-19 response. Mwanya explains that it is important to meet local leaders because “if they don’t know you, you will face a lot of resistance. You can be booed as you do outreach activities.”
Altogether around 20 women’s association leaders gather for this session on sexual exploitation. Kyavaghendi explains how the women can help encourage people to come forward.
“If there are cases of sexual abuse in the community, we have to report them. But we also must educate the community about what sexual abuse is. Many people suffer abuse but do not know that it is abuse.”