At long last, my state of Missouri feels some relief as all immunization tiers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and more local vaccination appointments become available. No one thought vaccine rollout would be easy. Nor did Americans think it would be this hard. We watched Texans struggle when a February storm disrupted food, water, heat, and shipments of vials. I became an online vaccine hunter for friends and family, navigating a system that had city-dwellers traveling for hours, desperate to find the vaccine.
Such hardships reminded me of families in low-income countries who regularly lack healthy food, clean water, and access to health resources. I’ve visited rural Ugandan communities where mothers walk for miles carrying infants for vaccines. At least when St. Louisans drove to Potosi, they went in cars.
We’re now entering a new pandemic phase with greater freedom and less worry. Yet we should remember the desperation we felt when we scrambled for shots. It’s likely that vulnerable people in low-income countries will feel it for years to come.
Portia Nartey, a Washington University student from Ghana, says her family is aware Ghana doesn’t have the means to create a vaccine. They are resigned to waiting. Yet they have faith that the U.S. will help. Portia shared, “Some think that rich countries will not care about developing countries until they have vaccinated all their citizens. As a result, we are praying for them to quickly vaccinate their people and once that is done, we know they will send some vaccines to developing countries like Ghana.”
My cousin Rachel Stampfli lives in the Caribbean where my father grew up, Trinidad & Tobago. Rachel admitted there is a general feeling of having lower status. But Trinidadians worry that larger countries with uncontained spread, like the U.S., could easily reinfect the world through international travel, so they will wait their turn. In other words, she’s eager for me to come visit, but not until she knows I won’t bring COVID-19 to her island.
COVAX Can Help
There is a way to combat global vaccine inequity. COVAX, formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is an initiative dedicated to equitable vaccine access. It accelerates the development, manufacture, and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for every country in the world with a goal to deliver at least two billion doses by the end of 2021. Without donor nation participation in COVAX, the virus will continue to mutate in unprotected communities and extend the life of the pandemic.
The very first COVAX vaccines shipped out on February 24 happened to go to Portia’s home country of Ghana to protect health workers and high-risk individuals. So far, COVAX has delivered over 38 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to over 100 countries.
Unfortunately, Rachel found out on March 18 that Trinidad & Tobago’s COVAX delivery was delayed. Her reaction looked exactly like Facebook posts from my fellow local moms when she wrote, “We have no idea when we will get it. It sucks. We need to get back to some semblance of normal and the kids need to be back in school.” The good news is that by March 30 they received a small shipment of 33,600 of vaccines for the 1.2 million citizens and over 18,000 refugees on the islands. It’s a start.
Action from Citizens
Even when it’s safe for those of us living in wealthy nations to gather again, let’s not forget how frustrated we felt. Remember what life was like when travel, school, hugs, and all sorts of activities were risky. We can turn negative memories into positive action in solidarity with people still waiting.
Americans can contact President Biden with this petition from the ONE Campaign to urge him to support donating excess American COVID-19 doses to COVAX. Canadians can do the same for their country. Our leaders should also do all they can to simplify intellectual property rights and remove measures that restrict or slow vaccine exports.
Meanwhile, Cousin Rachel is settled in for what she calls the Great Wait. She told me, “Until then Trinidad & Tobago’s borders remain closed, only receiving nationals locked out since March . We’ll just continue to mask-up and absorb more alcohol through our hands than from our glasses.”
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
While countries around the world are dealing with different stages of lockdowns and reopenings, the state of women’s safety has been put off to the side.
The focus on COVID-19 has been ever-present and with good reason. The number of cases continue to rise around the world and at the same time, there’s also a rise in domestic violence cases. China, Spain and Italy are just some of the countries seeing increased cases of “intimate terrorism” due to lockdowns.
Lele, from China, has suffered multiple abuses from her husband including one such incident where he beat her with their child’s high chair. The beating was so severe that two of the metal legs snapped off and left her with bruises all over her legs. She called the police and the abuse was documented, but no further action was taken. She then tried to get a divorce but the lockdown during the pandemic made it more difficult to get the paperwork done, so she was forced to remain in the same home as her abuser. Lele’s story of being abandoned by a system that she thought she could rely on is not uncommon. According to Feng Yuan, a co-founder of a Chinese advocacy group called Equality, another woman in China who called an emergency line for help was told by the operator that the police were too outstretched to help her but added, ”We can come to your place after the crisis”.
In Spain, a woman named Ana has also been continuously physically abused by her partner, extending to surveillance of her every move. Surveillance has become extreme for Ana as it has resulted in breaking down the bathroom door, eliminating any semblance of privacy. In spite of the case being reported, not much has been done. Her constant fear of being victimized has gone unnoticed, leading to more violence.
Domestic violence or “intimate terrorism”, a term used by experts, has only increased with the continued lockdown due to the pandemic. When Italy shut down in March as a result of the Coronavirus, the number of domestic abuse cases on women increased by 30%, according to a study done by UN Women. Shelters were unavailable due to fear of being exposed to the virus. It would take another month before the Italian government would requisition some hotels to become temporary housing for women who had to escape their abusers.
Prior to the pandemic, resources such as restraining orders and complaints to emergency lines were used by victims of domestic violence, but has since decreased or completely disappeared due to fear of retaliation by their abusers. What makes it more challenging is that since the outbreak of COVID-19, women haven’t been able to reach out to agencies that can help them due to imposed restrictions of movement. According to Maria Angeles Carmona, president of the government agency dealing with domestic violence in Spain, the number of women who contacted support services via email or social media had increased by 700% during the first two weeks in April. Since then, the numbers sharply decreased partly as a result of the imposed lockdown, but more so due to lack of a support system which increased their isolation. Per Carmona, “Around 30% of police complaints are about breaking restraining orders, but under the lockdown no one is allowed to leave their home”.
It’s not just the delayed actions of government agencies that are affecting women’s safety, but the lack of adequate services that could help women escape from their abusers, giving them a way to start over. One organization in Spain that is helping women to break free of their abusers is Fundacion Ana Bella, founded by Ana Bella, a domestic abuse survivor. One of the ways her organization supports women in abusive relationships is through her Amiga Program which offers peer to peer support. Women who have escaped and reconstructed their lives from abuse connect with women who are struggling to get away from their situation. The program advocates “breaking away” rather than remaining with their abuser. By doing so, Ana believes that the stronger women become, the easier it is for them to move on and build a life away from their abusers.
In addition to services that need to be increased, the dissemination of these services has to be monitored and adjusted to the needs of these women whose lives have been upended as a result of the pandemic. The women affected by these atrocious acts of violence and inadequate support by their government creates a perfect storm of chaos that abusers use to control their victims.
While I have not been subject to physical abuse, I have been a victim of mental and emotional abuse by an old boyfriend. This man grew up in a violent household, but I would not discover how he dealt with his emotions until I saw it for myself one day. We were visiting his parents’ home and sometime during the visit, his father said something that set my boyfriend off and resulted in him shouting violent threats towards his father. Seeing this made me afraid of him, but I shrugged it off, thinking it was just his frustration towards his father, but it wasn’t. Since that violent outburst, I started seeing signs of passive-aggressive behaviors toward me, making me think that I was doing something wrong. It would take another year of being manipulated by him to make me realize that he was a destructive person and that I had to leave him.
My abuse was not violent, but the constant emotional and mental manipulation was hard to shake off. I constantly questioned myself and thought that his pleas of staying with him was because he cared about me, but that was how he controlled me. How did I get out of that relationship? It would take me finding out that he was married while he was with me that gave me the strength to leave him. My family never knew that he was married and I never told them because of the shame I felt for not knowing until I realized I needed to leave him.
Unlike so many women who are currently going through an abusive relationship, I was able to leave my abuser, but so many are not as lucky. The support system they need to get out of the situation is far from adequate and that has to be resolved, especially during the pandemic. The longer it takes for government agencies to create lasting solutions, such as legal and psychological aid, more women will be abused or killed by their partners. Here’s hoping that government agencies in charge of implementing policies to keep women safe in countries that are most at risk do so before more women lose their lives unnecessarily.
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.