• Feminist Humanitarian Net

Women-led responses to COVID-19: Report from Ramallah, Palestine

Women’s organisations around the world report COVID-19 and the urgent action they’re taking to protect their communities

Ohaila Shomar and Saja Awad Barghouthi work with SAWA, a Palestinian, feminist, non-profit civil society organization working to eliminate all types of violence against women and children, and to promote gender equality in Palestinian society. SAWA provides a number of services to women and their communities, including a helpline, over which they provide confidential counselling, medical and legal advice.

Ohaila and Saja report from Ramallah, where both are working from home.

Cases of coronavirus here in Palestine are increasing rapidly. Since the beginning of March, we’ve had 60 cases of coronavirus. The anxiety and the fear has built up, especially now that people are in quarantine. We’re trying to make sure that everyone who needs support in Palestine can get it.

A number of people have been calling Sawa’s helpline, fearing what might happen if they call the Ministry of Health and it is discovered they have coronavirus.

So right now, since we’re fully quarantined here in Palestine, we made sure that our helpline is able to function from our home laptops. Normally we can only receive calls in the SAWA office on our servers but earlier this week we got all of our operators together, we told them to bring their laptops, downloaded VPNs and prepared them to work from home.

The SAWA team.
We’re here to provide support through our referral systems. We are providing referrals to hospitals, etc.

We stay in contact when those we refer them onto don’t answer. We’re planning to operate 24/7 – so we can take calls from people any time of the day. We’re finding that at this time, many people are calling between midnight and 9am, however we are trying to find the person power and funds to help continue offering this support.

As well as doing awareness raising on preventative measures on social media, we’re working on purchasing PPE equipment and making hygiene kits for families who are under quarantine. Trying to get funds to distribute hygiene baskets to families that they can use at this time, in case they need to go out for emergency reasons or live with health professionals that might be exposed.

We have volunteers that are willing to distribute these with us. We’ve started to do volunteer trainings to have more people on the health line and we will continue to do these on Zoom.

We’re definitely seeing gendered impacts – and a gendered response – to coronavirus.

Recently in the village next to us, a woman was diagnosed with coronavirus. And nobody would believe her! She went to three doctors and they told her she was crazy and that she was overreacting. She had just come from Turkey. She went to the main hospital in Ramallah and until she yelled “I have corona’ they took her seriously – it took doctors days to believe her. Now her children have it and many others in her community.

In terms of cases, we know from past experiences - the wars in Gaza, for example - during those emergency times, domestic violence increases. We’re worried about that and are currently working with cases of GBV due to the worsening situation in Palestine.

Ohaila Shomar

When the entire family is at home, women have more responsibilities – they need to take care of everything. It’s more pressure on her duties. With everyone home, people constantly expect her to do tasks for them, and to take care of all of the family at the same time. Usually, when everyone else goes to work she will have space to herself, but right now, she is feeling the most pressure, especially with no income for the upcoming few weeks.

We’re seeing lots of community efforts to prevent the virus. Lots of youth groups are collecting donations to sanitise the village and communities. Last night we have 20 guys from head to toe sanitise everything – they went out on a cleaning spree. We’ve seen that sort of thing increasing a lot.

There are a lot of people who are collecting food so that they can gift it to people who don’t have money or who run out of money. Everyone is trying to do their best at this point, but the uncertainty of how long this will last is bound to cause panic.

We’re worried about different groups here in Palestine. Here, houses pre-pay their water bills, and if they don’t pay because they haven’t had income, they won’t get the water. And when people start to run out of food we have to think that the Bedouin community– or those families that don’t have electricity – need specific food that they can eat without having to cook it, like canned foods.

We’re not sure what it’s going to be like in two weeks. We are really hoping it won’t worsen.

The Feminist Humanitarian Network is working to facilitate shared learning and support amongst its members on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19 in countries around the world. To join or support the FHN, please email

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