by Nyaradzo Mutonhori and Moreblessings Chidaushe
When it started
with a few cases in Wuhan, China towards the end of 2019, COVID-19 was little
discussed or given the attention it deserved, and the world may well have
under-estimated its potential spread and impact right from the beginning.
No-one was prepared for what the world is currently witnessing. The current
situation is unprecedented and forcing everyone into doing things differently.
A lot of things will never be the same again even when COVID-19 is long
gone. As of now, the world is struggling
to find the best ways and means to cope, adapt and mitigate, as we are told the
vaccine may be more than a year away – 2020 will be a very long year, jokingly
some have even suggested that if only we could put the year 2020 on reset mode
so that we start on a clean slate.
The Aid sector is among the most affected sectors. Development workers all over the world are grappling with the harsh realities and the many questions that have arisen as they attempt to implement their programmes and projects in this unfamiliar COVID-19 pandemic era.
organizations are asking many questions: How are we going to implement projects,
assuming we will be able to conduct planned activities later this year? Should
we postpone activities or just cancel them totally and begin planning again
when it is possible? What kind of context will prevail after the pandemic and
how do we maintain communication with communities and stakeholders we work with,
so our work remains relevant? How do we mobilize international collaboration
and solidarity at a time when everyone is swamped and focusing on their own
contexts, how do we ensure that we do not lose the gains we have so far made,
how do we not lose active contact,
engagement and communication with our
constituencies, will we have to start things anew when COVID-19 is gone? The
questions are many and the answers are not always easy, and neither are they
straightforward in times of such unimaginable uncertainty.
For those of us
working on advocacy and depend on mobilizing and convening meetings and
gatherings, the reality brought about by the pandemic is that physical
convenings have become impossible (and might be for a long while) – policy
influencing work has stalled given that;
- it is impossible to gather
rights-holders in large numbers and
- targeted institutions/government ministries
may not be able to provide responses to the issues we may raise- as governments
shift their focus to deal with the pandemic. Parliaments are suspending session
and the law-making processes while oversight is slowly waning.
That we now have
to work outside our normal comfort zones and our normal operating structures
requires us as civil society organizations working on advocacy to be creative
in order to somehow maintain active engagement and impact with our various
constituencies throughout this period. We should not lose contact with our
communities if we are to maintain the gains and progress that we have so far
made in the different areas that we work in, losing this will be an expensive
exercise that may require us to start many things afresh.
But how do we
maintain active engagement and contact with our constituencies during this time
of social distancing under such harsh realities as poor connectivity, expensive
data, lack of electricity and of cause communities that are understandably and
rightfully focusing on protecting themselves from the pandemic? How do we
strike a balance to get our work to continue while respecting that communities
need the time and space to focus on protecting themselves from the pandemic?
on pertinent issues should be promoted to continue through available forms of
media. In the policy advocacy value chain, we may still need to get responses
from stakeholders/policy makers, we may still need to enhance capacities and
generate research to buttress our policy reform proposals. Field research has
become impossible and it is a fundamental element. Campaigning and solidarity
have largely taken a backstage especially for regional and global campaigns. In
most of our organizations, we rely on building North-South and South-South
Solidarity. How do we strategize on
campaigning and solidarity in this new global reality? Social media
communication platform such as Twitter and Facebook – when used well are very
powerful and influential platforms to build and maintain solidarity and should
never be underestimated or undermined. At a time like this, how do we best use
them to make sure that we continue driving our advocacy work and campaigns on
the ground and at global levels.
challenges in conducting our work as we knew it, the actual effect of COVID-19
has been an increase in the demand for our work. For instance, how do we deal
with gender-based violence considering survivors may be more exposed because of
confinement with their abusers over a long period of time? How can communities
continue to hold duty bearers accountable for the governance of national
resources such as mineral revenue and public financial management and to make
sure that resources are transparently allocated towards dealing with the
pandemic. How can duty bearers ensure that greater access to clean water and
health services is prioritized and actually delivered to poor communities?
When we define
essential services how can communities be involved to ensure we do not overlook
other critical needs and rights beyond health services? For instance, how best
can Gender Commissions continue to tackle gender-based violence and how best
can local authorities and municipalities continue to provide services such as
poverty will manifest themselves significantly and differently during this time
and render women and children more vulnerable as food aid is stopped and
livelihoods suffer due to the pandemic. How can civil society influence and
shape responses by national governments and cooperating partners to cater for
the resultant humanitarian and economic crises or their exacerbation?
It is fundamental to ensure that women and
children have regular access to information because of their increased vulnerabilities
due to the increase in unpaid care work and greater demand on them as primary
caregivers. With schools closed, how can children and the youth voices be
amplified so that their rights are considered?
implications of COVID-19 to programming are many and mind-boggling and there
may not be straightforward answers to all the questions that are arising with
the new reality. Agility and flexibility will need to be a new norm for us to
remain relevant to our various constituencies moving forward.
There will be a
need to invest energies extensively during this time by maintaining close
communications with stakeholders and especially marginalized remote
communities, being alive to the reality that we do not create an elite in the
communities that may be seen to be the favored ones with more access to us than
the broader communities.
We need to be alive to the reality that
energies amongst target communities will
wane especially as the pandemic becomes protracted, momentum will be lost
especially for some of us doing policy advocacy and lobbying work, including
strengthening social justice movements and in some instances we may need to
accept the harsh reality that we may need to start from scratch to devise and
implement change pathways when the pandemic is gone. Reality may even call for
complete and utter shift in our planned strategic and annual plans and
interventions as we adapt to emerging needs.
In all this, we need to remain strong,
focused, protect each other and remain resolute that together we will fight
this and emerge stronger when the pandemic is gone.