How to mobilise SRH resources for persons with disabilities during a lockdown

Written by Agness Chindimba and Onai Hara, Deaf Women Included, Zimbabwe

This guide was written in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the information will not be so relevant to the current situation, but we think this guide offers useful advice to SRHR advocates.

Please describe the context in which your work has highlighted these learnings?

The COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown in Zimbabwe has seen the general populace being confined within their homes. This has had an impact on the livelihood of low-income earners including persons with disabilities who depend on informal trading as a source of income.

This pandemic has also amplified the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing sanitary wear, with the majority resorting to using unhygienic means such as newspapers, tissues, pieces of cloth and cow dung during menstruation. Most relief efforts have focused on basic foods, with limited consideration for the menstrual hygiene of poor and vulnerable groups.

What did you discover about the challenges that advocates face in this situation?

We discovered that advocates face challenges accessing communities in need during pandemics, as everyone is expected to be confined within their homes. In addition, resources to respond to such pandemics are usually channeled to governmental agencies and large non-profit organisations, so community-based organisations for persons with disabilities face challenges competing for the funding. Lack of funding has a direct impact on the extent to which advocates can promote menstrual hygiene for persons with disabilities. We discovered that these challenges called for a transformation of the way advocates worked. We reached constituencies, mobilised resources and advanced their work through online spaces.

How were those challenges tackled – what was achieved?

Due to the lack of support available through government and relief organisations for our needs, we turned to the community for support, fundraising via online platforms by running a ‘Pad drive’ campaign.

We designed and distributed fliers through the social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, calling for interested individuals, groups and communities to support us in preserving the dignity of persons with disabilities during menstruation.

We made great use of mobile money transfer systems, as movement restrictions posed a challenge for people to physically donate sanitary pads at our offices. Mobile transfers also broke down geographical barriers, allowing anyone anywhere in the country to transfer money to given mobile numbers. We used the money to buy sanitary pads in shops for local distribution.

As our campaign gained momentum, we partnered with other resource partners such as the PadUp6 campaign, increasing the number of pads we could access. We also signposted to other partners who could support our initiative and we have been exploring ways of working with them.

Our campaign has been very successful. We have mobilised a total of 500 pads and 100 soap bars for distribution, opened a second round of donations and continue to receive overwhelming support in our campaign. To progress further we have applied to the Ministry of Health and Child Care for an exemption letter allowing us to continue our advocacy work within communities around the country.

What did advocates learn from this experience?

We learnt to prioritise community resource mobilisation within our collectiveness as a society. Our African philosophy of Ubuntu ‘I am because we are, and we are because I am,’ motivated us to explore home-based solutions for support.

We also learnt that in times of challenge, our inspiration comes from our commitment to serve our constituency, preserve their dignity and fight for accessible and affordable quality sanitary wear. This motivated us to explore alternative ways of working such as using online spaces.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  • Find a resource partner

Resource mobilisation is never easy. There will always be people who try and discourage you, but as an advocate you need to be persistent and search for potential partners who share your vision. Working with organisers for the PadUp6 campaign and through other partnerships we were able to expand our reach to a wide audience. Resource partners can also be members of your community who are willing to support your work. Therefore, it remains imperative to search within your community (both online and geographical) for potential partners to advance your work.

  • Find alternative ways of working during pandemics.

The COVID-19 pandemic limited our ability to conduct advocacy work in physical environments. This led us to creatively explore ways of working remotely, use digital technologies including mobile payments to continuously serve our constituencies. Mobile money is the fastest way of sending money in the country and it can pay directly to shops or other service providers.

Agness Chindimba and Onai Hara, Deaf Women Included, Zimbabwe

Agness Chindimba is a disability rights activist and the Executive Director at Deaf Women Included. Agness is passionate about disability rights and women’s rights issues and has more than 8 years’ experience working with women with disabilities in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV).

Onai Hara is the Project Manager at Deaf Women Included. She is a qualified social worker with experience working with women and girls with disabilities. She is passionate about the accessibility of SRHR information and services for women and girls with disabilities and provides technical support for mainstream disability inclusion in women’s rights.

Visit the Deaf Women Included website