How to start fostering resilience in a health crisis

Written by Edinah Masiyiwa, Women’s Action Group, 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 how to start fostering resilience during COVID-19:

Our work is mostly face-to-face so, with the lockdown we had to work with partners to facilitate access to contraception for the women and girls we support. We have seen gender-based violence (GBV) rise during lockdown and also increased stress on women from providing home-based care during the health crisis. As most people are in informal economies there are also food shortages and a lot of profiteering.

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

Emergency financial support is slow in coming, and many vulnerable groups are missing out because they are often only viewed within certain issue contexts.

For example, sex workers seen only in light of HIV, when of course they also face the same challenges as others, like food shortages. Because of the nature of the crisis and the work we do, our workload has become 24/7, sometimes receiving calls for help at midnight. We do everything we can to help but also try to carve out time ‘off’ in order not to burn out.

How were those challenges tackled – what was achieved?

In crises the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, of which we are a member, comes together for a coordinated response, e.g. during the cyclone last year, and we have learned to plan ahead. 

We have few COVID-19 cases but hold ‘What If?’ meetings for forward planning. We facilitate access to contraceptives and SRH services through partners and outreach. At Women’s Action Group (WAG) we purchased PPE to distribute to district COVID-19 response teams, with a strategy of training trainers who will then go to the communities. 

What did advocates learn from this experience?

  • You have to respond to emergencies instantly.
  • Preparation can be vital. Crisis plans can be made ahead of time to some extent, for use when needed.
  • Working in partnership is crucial. Reach out to even unusual partners, like district authorities.
  • Self-care is vital to maintaining mental health and resilience. We send weekly messages to staff for support. We only ask staff to go into the community if they are ready and comfortable. Information overload is another risk. 
  • The issue of livelihoods is crucial to all aspects of health and well-being and needs to be considered within SRHR.
  • There is a need to mainstream SRHR and GBV in any emergency response

Do you have any photos or documents that would help or inspire another organisation or group facing the same problems?

Timely Pitch: Women Still Need Contraceptives During Lockdown (

Edinah Masiyiwa, Women’s Action Group, Zimbabwe

Edinah Masiyiwa is a nurse, midwife and well-known advocate and activist for women’s health and rights. She has written extensively on abortion rights and sits on the Global Fund for HIV and AIDS Country Coordinating Mechanism in Zimbabwe. She is a holder of an advanced course in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights from Lund University (Sweden), a masters degree in Development Studies, and a Certificate in General Nursing. Edinah is the Executive Director of Women’s Action Group.