As the pandemic continues, one thing is becoming clearer – COVID-19 is threatening far more than global health alone.
Last month, our President & CEO Scott Jackson examined the effects of COVID-19 outside of global health and its impact on our long-term goals. Acting quickly to protect vulnerable communities is paramount, and charities are already reacting, developing new programs and revamping old ones to provide better support amid social distancing and other new guidelines.
Our Charity Alliance partner Oxfam America works to end the injustice of poverty. The charity is focused on fostering long-term sustainability within communities and disaster response efforts. Through strategy and partnership, Oxfam has identified areas that are at-risk because of the pandemic and are adapting to boost support for these humanitarian concerns. From calling for change in policy to taking tangible action in order to provide food and water, it continues to support the world’s most vulnerable.
But what areas are being impacted? Let’s take a look at just a few: WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), women and girls, and global hunger.
WASH: When soap is a game-changer
What’s one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The answer is simple: Wash your hands correctly and frequently.
However, in many communities across the world, soap (and clean water!) can be hard to find. In these areas, WASH support and education is critical – and, too often, lacking.
But Oxfam is bridging this gap with WASH programming around the world, including in the Philippines with their partner, the Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). This organization has been working with local governments to install easily accessible hand-washing stations – complete with free-to-use soap – across the 34 barangays, or villages, that the organization works within.
And there’s more to it than that – in order to limit contact, staff remain in their homes, providing support from the sidelines in the form of station design and funds to buy necessary items and materials (i.e., water containers, sinks, faucets, soap and more). They also provide clear and informative signs to include at the stations to help stop the spread of misinformation. Meanwhile, the communities themselves take up the responsibility of construction, fostering a sense of independence.
Through this partnership, Oxfam and PRRM were able to boost WASH programming and push back the threat of misinformation – and they did it by putting the tools into the hands of the people.
This is just one example of Oxfam’s unique reach within the humanitarian sector. Through a vast network of partners, the charity is able to more thoroughly reach those who are most in need and work with communities at the local level to enact both short-term and lasting change.
Hunger: Preventing a global famine
COVID-19 presents another alarming concern – the potential for a global famine.
We’ve reported previously on the United Nations’ prediction that COVID-19 will cause the amount of people suffering from hunger – previously around 820 million – to double. According to the U.N. World Food Program, 135 million people are currently facing chronic food insecurity and “could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
The truth is that the coronavirus is affecting all regions of the world in a variety of ways, and the threat of a global famine further illustrates this fact.
“As country after country has required people to stay at home and economies grind to a halt, the specter of hunger is emerging. The movement of food, from farms to markets and people’s homes, is being disrupted, and the poorest and most vulnerable are at risk.” Oxfam says in one blog post. “The economic crisis and disruption of the food supply could push an additional half billion people into poverty.”
Oxfam and other organizations are looking into the effects of COVID-19 on the world’s food supply and are advocating for policies that will prevent catastrophe.
In addition, Oxfam is using its reach to combat potential famine in a variety of ways:
Providing clean water. Oxfam is doing more than just providing valuable hand-washing stations and fighting misinformation. The charity is also helping to improve and repair the wells that many communities rely on, and bringing water into areas that do not have any. This approach means more clean water for drinking, cooking and washing hands – essential to avoiding water-borne diseases such as cholera.
So, what does clean water have to do with food? Contracting a disease or other stomach ailment from using dirty water robs people of the vital nutrients they get from the food they can find. In order to stave off malnutrition, people must ensure that they don’t lose the few and valuable nutrients they are able to get.
Feeding the hungry. Even when food is available in markets, its scarcity makes it expensive. This makes it more difficult for those with lower incomes to feed their families. Oxfam supports those in need with cash to purchase food and provides emergency food when needed.
Supporting farmers. Oxfam supplies seeds, tools and other assistance so that people are able to grow their own food. For those caring for livestock, the charity also helps provide veterinary services, feed and additional animals to restock herds. These farmers are then able to grow food to feed their families and sell additional products to their community – increasing the supply of food and decreasing price hikes, which decreases the likelihood of food insecurity. This practice also sets farmers and their communities up for a better future, making them sustainable and independent so they can continue to see success after the pandemic.
Women and Girls: The fight for equality
In communities across the world, daily life is being upset. Schools and day cares are closed; people are working remotely or, in too many cases, have found themselves unemployed.
What kind of impact does this have on women and girls? Enter: unpaid care work, or according to Oxfam, “the uncompensated labor of caring for communities, homes, children and family members who may need it.”
Prior to COVID-19, women and girls around the world put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day – that equals at least $10.8 trillion a year. And in the U.S., Oxfam estimates that women put 40% more time into unpaid care then men.
With the spread of COVID-19, the unequal distribution of unpaid care work has increased dramatically. Much of this work has fallen on women – and the longer society remains closed, the more impact it will have on their careers, income, health and more.
In order to curb the spread of the pandemic, much of the world needs to remain closed. A return to “normalcy” is not yet in sight, but there are steps that we can take now to help stop this resulting issue.
Oxfam has cross-sector recommendations that will help see women and girls around the world through these difficult times, and may even set them up for a better life when the pandemic ends:
- Focus funds on the “individual” rather than “family.” Financial relief for families sounds effective and safe, but that isn’t always the case. Statistically, the head of a family is often a man, and because of this, women are more likely to be isolated. They may not have a say in how funds are used or ever even see the benefits of it. Focusing on the individual ensures that women can decide for themselves how to best use their own funds.
- Support access to childcare programs. On a policy level, access to childcare is crucial. Addressing the cost of child care for millions of low- and middle-income families has been proven to encourage more women to enter the workforce. As the situation unfolds, offices may remain remote, adopt staggered schedules or opt for socially distanced offices – and parents, especially mothers, will need to be able to make use of the limited, safe child care options available. Post-pandemic, this will be even more important to allow women who may have taken on the bulk of child care to transition smoothly back into the office.
- Workplace solutions. As an employer, there are a number of ways you can help support women. Guaranteed paid family and medical leave, flexible work schedules and locations, and paid sick days are several ways to help ease this burden on women – and on families as a whole – by ensuring that unpaid care is shared more equally.
How to get involved safely
We all want to do something to help end this pandemic. You may already be helping by donating to charities and fundraisers, which is great! Did you know that you can also get involved with critical organizations like Oxfam virtually? Virtual opportunities are also easily adaptable for the workplace. So get creative and check out our list below for some ideas on how to put a new twist on your workplace giving campaigns:
- Sustainable cooking. With many restaurants still closed, people are cooking and baking more than ever before. Turn your weekly meal plan into an opportunity to give back to people and planet. Some suggestions include: purchasing in-season ingredients from small-scale farmers, eating less meat, reducing water waste, and saving and reusing leftovers. Oxfam has some great tips (and delicious recipes) for you to try out. Love an Oxfam dish or want to spread the word for sustainable cooking? Share with your co-workers, friends and family!
- Join a webinar and stay informed. Check out Oxfam’s list of upcoming virtual events around COVID-19 response. See one that you like? Reach out to family and friends, or get your office involved and have a virtual viewing party – then discuss what you learned!
- Protect grocery store workers. Grocery store workers stand on the front lines of the pandemic, putting themselves at risk to keep shelves stocked, ensuring their communities have access to vital supplies. Many of these employees can’t afford to miss work and often don’t have access to paid sick leave. They are at risk of exposure each day. Make your voice heard by signing this petition asking U.S. grocery stores to better support their employees.
- Ensure COVID-19 treatments and vaccines are accessible. As we move closer to a coronavirus vaccine, concerns mount over Big Pharma and their monopoly over vital medicines. Sign this petition to show your support for making COVID-19 treatments widely available so that those most in need are protected.
As we continue to live with the daily impacts of COVID-19, let’s not forget that the effects of the pandemic often extend beyond just putting on a face mask and practicing social distancing.
All of the above are wonderful ways to get involved in the fight to end COVID-19. And, since they are all easily adaptable into the workplace, we recommend talking to your leadership to see if there’s a way to incorporate these opportunities into your employee engagement program. They are a fantastic opportunity to connect with co-workers – especially if you continue to work remotely and haven’t seen each other in a while. Contact us for even more ways to bring Oxfam into your workplace and create impactful change around the world.