On the frontline and even at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed women and girls to increased sexual abuse, exploitation and domestic violence.
Pandemic job loss, increased poverty, broken families, changing parenting roles and domestic burdens continue to cripple women.
In a 2021 United Nations report titled From Insights to Action, Ginette Azcona, lead author and UN Women’s Senior Research and Data Specialist wrote that the pandemic will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, 47 million of which will be women and girls.
Here in T&T, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are already reaching out to help vulnerable women.
Since Guardian Media piloted its Women in a Pandemic Series, hundreds have received help from Soroptimist International, of San Fernando, the La Romaine Migrant Support group coordinated by Angie Ramnarine, as well as the group Kindness Makes a Difference.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Terry Rambharat, president of Soroptimist International San Fernando, said her group has been providing hot meals to the 50-plus healthcare workers who toil at the Augustus Long Hospital, many of whom are women.
Rambharat said the pandemic has affected women directly and indirectly as breadwinners, single mothers, caregivers, nurses and doctors.
“Many women have also been on the forefront of many initiatives to help those affected by the pandemic. Many people wish to help but lack the organisational structure and resources to do so. That’s where organisations like the Soroptimists play a crucial role,” she explained. By the time the first wave of the pandemic hit, Rambharat and her team began liaising with Massy Stores to provide hampers to migrant women in April last year offering personal care items, computers for online classes and food hampers to local women who suffered job loss.
A “Coping with Covid” video series was also launched where psychologist Dr Karen Moore, cricketer Daren Ganga and Comedienne Nicki Crosby gave women tips on how to keep their children engaged during the pandemic.
She said by the time the third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic hit, medical workers became overwhelmed and support was extended to them as well.
“We were concerned about the mental health and well-being of our front liners during these difficult and stressful times when they were risking their own lives to save the lives of others. Last year we clapped. This year we wanted to show our support more tangibly by providing dinner for 50 staff of the evening shift at the Augustus Long Hospital in the evenings,” Rambharat said.
Ramnarine who has 200 hampers over the past fortnight said she has a database of 350 requests for help.
“Almost every 30 seconds my phone rings. Usually, it is mothers with children, some pregnant or with babies. We are getting requests from all over the country. I’ve been trying to deal with people mainly in the South like La Romaine, Marabella, Penal/Debe, Point Fortin, Fyzabad, Gasparillo,” Ramnarine explained.
She said women come to her home looking for food.
Ramnarine said while NGO’s were playing their part, the government should begin hiring more social workers to get into communities to assess poverty levels.
“Right now social workers are scarce on the field. The few that they have are overburdened. A huge amount of social work has to be done if we have to protect women and girls in a meaningful way,” Ramnarine said.
She noted that help is coming purely from the goodwill of ordinary citizens who ought to be congratulated as they bring relief to the vulnerable.