COVID-19 is now present in all of the countries in which Conciliation Resources works, but the extent of the virus and the responses to it are diverse. Collaborative, two-way partnerships have always been at the heart of our work. Now, as we adjust to a new reality and a new way of working, these trusted relationships are more important than ever. Together, we are adapting our activities, and responding to immediate peacebuilding as well as societal needs.
At the frontline in addressing the crisis
Many of our partners are working at the frontline of conflict. As peacebuilders embedded within the societies in which they work, they play an important role in developing relationships – establishing dialogue and disseminating information on the conflicts affecting people’s lives.
While for some this now means adapting planned peacebuilding activities, for others this role includes raising awareness about the pandemic and how to prevent the spread of the virus, particularly in communities where the government reach is limited. Misinformation, disbelief and the spread of rumours can cause fear among populations, fuelling tensions, leading to distrust and in some cases violence, as happened in many places during the Ebola epidemic.
Due to their credibility, extensive networks and trusted positions in communities, many of our partners are ideally placed to help with the immediate responses to the crisis. In South Asia, we support people living on either side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Feroze Ahmed works for Human Welfare Voluntary Organisation, a Conciliation Resources’ partner based in Srinagar, on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir. Working at the nexus of humanitarian aid and peacebuilding, he is finding he is able to provide effective support to communities:
“We are responding directly to the COVID-19 crisis, we have been able to mobilise resources and have provided the necessary support to vulnerable families, also working with the government on the coordination of the efforts across agencies at state level. The training and other resources which we have been able to acquire through the Conciliation Resources programming and the partnership are proving to be of great help. The advocacy tools and the messaging around peace and dialogue are galvanising support for the humanitarian response.”
In countries and regions with fewer confirmed cases, but where healthcare and other infrastructure is less developed, such as in Nigeria, Bossangoa in the Central African Republic, and some parts of the South Caucasus, our partners are disseminating information as well as supporting the most vulnerable to access food and other supplies.
For example, in Abkhazia, a contested territory in the South Caucasus, our partners are helping people who are isolated or in quarantine, supporting social services to distribute essential supplies to all regions, ensuring the population can access psychological support through a helpline, and important information through leafleting, TV and internet broadcasts and discussion programmes.
While in Plateau State, Nigeria, partners are helping combat myths and highlight the importance of taking this situation seriously. Samuel Goro works for Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN):
“Despite the news that is filtering around the world of how thousands of people are being infected or dying of the coronavirus, there are still some people in Nigeria who live in denial of its existence. This attitude puts people at higher risk of contracting coronavirus, and it shows clearly that there is no adequate awareness creation and sensitisation among the citizens. Therefore, it is imperative that CEPAN and its local partners embark on vigorous awareness creation and sensitisation.”
In Yobe, Borno and Plateau States of Nigeria, our partners are using the first part of every virtual peacebuilding dialogue session to educate participants on coronavirus related health and sanitation. And, as part of our Smart Peace work, partners the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue are looking to conduct workshops with different groups on these topics, with the Behavioural Insights Team then refining the messaging to be shared with community networks via SMS.
Ensuring inclusion and gender-sensitive responses
From our work in West Africa during the Ebola epidemic, we know just how important it is that responses to COVID-19 are both conflict-sensitive and gender-sensitive. In Fiji, we’re working with partners to create guidance for those involved in responding to the pandemic, and exploring working with humanitarian organisations to ensure activities are conflict-sensitive. Across all our programmes we’re helping to inform policymakers and donors about the importance of conflict-sensitive and inclusive responses to the pandemic.
Gender and inclusion are often the first things to be abandoned during crisis situations, where rapid assessments are required. However, it is vital that responses at this time take account of gender and other factors to avoid exacerbating tensions and making situations worse.
Involving women’s organisations and finding ways of listening to the needs and concerns of those who are the most vulnerable and least resilient is imperative. COVID-19 risks disproportionately affecting women and girls who are primarily frontline health responders, social assistance workers, teachers and carers of children, elderly and the sick, making them increasingly vulnerable to potential exposure. As a representative from the University of Maiduguri Muslim Women Association in northeast Nigeria comments:
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Borno State, should it occur, will be catastrophic considering our poor healthcare system and grossly inadequate infrastructure and equipment. We conducted sensitisation on COVID-19 during a storytelling activity for women, as women are placed at the frontline of the pandemic. We discussed how to prevent the spread of the disease, as well as demonstrating proper hand washing and social distancing techniques.”
Using technology to adapt peacebuilding
In many places, vital dialogue and other work can no longer take place face-to-face, so instead our partners are finding innovative ways of using technology to conduct activities online or taking to the airwaves.
One of our Kashmiri partner, Sardar Waleed Khan, Director of Programmes and Finance at the Kashmir Institute of International Relations, explains how their peacebuilding activities are being brought online:
“We intend to utilise digital technology, such as video conferencing and online tools to adapt ourselves to the changing paradigm. By utilising these tools, we can continue our efforts on engaging our audience in the various strands we are working on and collecting data that will help relay deep insights. We are shifting the focus of our disaster management work specifically towards COVID-19 and intend to use online video conferencing to engage with old and new participants across different locations. Through this we can share a deeper understanding of COVID-19’s impact, solutions that work and build synergies across Azad Jammu and Kashmir.”
In Nigeria, we’re building on innovative work connecting existing Youth Peace Platforms across Borno, Yobe and Plateau states via WhatsApp, sharing information and discussion points for conducting community dialogue sessions. Youth are playing an important role in responding to the pandemic. Our partners are also using local radio stations to share key messages, not only about the virus, but also about emerging conflict dynamics and how to mitigate tensions.
While technology provides solutions, it is often less available to women. Therefore, consideration needs to be made to ensure that there are alternative methods for including women in peacebuilding, when access to technology is limited or a source of possible abuse.
Like many others, we’re still in the early stages of adapting to the new reality of peacebuilding during a global pandemic. As always, we’ll continue to innovate and adjust based on our own and others analysis, research and learning, as well as vitally, the invaluable insights and experiences of our partners around the world.