Part two in our Pandemic Blog series
By Kuini Rabo and Menka Goundan
July marks the third month that our island home continues to experience the impact of wave two of Fiji’s COVID-19 outbreak. COVID-positive cases are no longer confined to contained zones, the daily positive cases have accelerated past 1000, the death rate continues to rise and this has no doubt changed the situation for many of our grantee partners since our last blog.
As a women’s fund, we continue to value and practice empathy and offer flexible support to our grantee partners. From experience, we know the power to listen, learn, adapt and most importantly build trust with our grantee partners – the implementers on the ground. Given the current situation, Fiji may be faced with this crisis for months yet to come and as such we are working with our grantee partners to re-look at their current grant activities and to adjust their program activities to include COVID-19 response and recovery. We are cognizant of the fact that these amendments may continue to the end of the year. We have also been keeping abreast of COVID-responsive legislative changes and the impact that they may have on women, children and gender non-conforming people.
Adapting to the evolving situation
An example of the changes in circumstances comes from grantee partner the Naitasiri Women in Dairy Group (NWDG) who were initially unimpacted and not in need of any amendments to their workplan for the year. This soon changed with the imposition of containment zones (areas under restricted movement) and the detection of COVID-positive cases in Naitasiri. The containment zone had a cascading effect on the NWDG who became cut off from accessing shopping centers located on the other side of their containment. They were also unable to access markets and experienced a delay in the delivery of much-needed farming implements such as milk feed for their calves. The NWDG experienced a 50% decrease in milk supply because they had no choice but to allow their calves to continue to suckle from milking cows. This reduced household income for all NWDG members.
With very few options available, the NWDG reached out to the Fund for an amendment to their current Grant to include COVID-19 response work. The amendment allowed NWDG to provide relief food rations for their 40 members and families. Part of their COVID relief activities is focused on helping members easily access their second dose of the vaccination. Transportation is costly so the NWDG will be providing this to assist their members to access nearby vaccination centers. This will also ensure that members meet the new Protocols for COVID-safe business operation and that they can continue to work together when restrictions are lifted. Another former grantee Talanoa Treks and other good Samaritans have also been supporting NWDG with the provision of personal protective equipment, hygiene kits for women and facilitating access to markets. Talanoa Treks meets the NWDG at the Sawani border to collect their oyster mushrooms, sells them to buyers in Suva and deposits the money into the women’s M-PAiSA accounts (mobile wallets). The NWDG’s willingness to encourage and lead their community in the vaccination drive has given us hope that there is light at the end of this turmoil.
“We are all affected by COVID, my heart is with hundreds of women and mothers worrying about their next meals and expenses in days to come. If we are already living below or just on that poverty line, our hardship increases, and this is where the focus of assistance should be.” (NWDG Executive Committee member).
Awareness and access to information on restrictions
According to the International Labour Organisation, more than 66.2% of Fijian workers are employed in the informal sector. Informal employment is usually characterised by a lack of structure, including non-regular working hours and a lack of access to secure benefits, welfare protection, or representation.
From speaking with our grantee partners involved in women’s economic empowerment activities, we know that the majority of women-owned businesses fall into the small-medium micro-business. Many of these are also informal businesses that aren’t formally registered. Economic shocks like natural disasters and pandemic-driven restrictions can put a stop to trading months-on-end thus affecting women’s ability to earn a living.
Protocols for COVID-safe business operations measures imposed by the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport have also made it harder for women to reopen their businesses. Our grantee partner the Women Entrepreneurs and Business Council (WEBC) through our Resilience Grant is working with women entrepreneurs to safely reopen by helping them to better understand and comply with the legislation. The grant will also help women entrepreneurs who cannot afford the added costs involved in compliance. WEBC also held a panel discussion on the protocols and featured a lawyer and women entrepreneurs sharing advice on how best to comply.
Pivoting our grants to humanitarian support
Given this constantly evolving situation and the increasing requests we are receiving for support, the Fund opened a Resilience Grant Call in May. The grant was made available to the Fund’s current 38 grantee partners to provide immediate relief assistance.
Between May and June, the Fund committed FJ $267,000 in grants to nine groups and organisations funding 10 initiatives focused on COVID-19 response and recovery. Our grantee partners are groups and organisations on the ground and at the forefront of humanitarian work. They know best the realities of their communities and how to effectively address the increasing socio, economic and psycho-social needs and challenges of their beneficiaries. We are extremely proud to see the magnitude of work that all our grantee partners have done and their ability and willingness to quickly reprogramme to the current context.
With no end in sight at the moment, we recognize that our greatest strength has been listening and our ability to collectively convene as a group virtually to discuss and share challenges, best practices and pathways forward. These convenings have instigated partnerships and support between grantee partners like the NWDG and Talanoa Treks in the example mentioned above.
Stay tuned for part three of our pandemic blog series, where we will share an interesting shift we witnessed from programming as individual organisations to partnership models.