In 2016, Zika caused a public health crisis in Brazil; thousands of infants born to mothers infected with the virus had neurological disorders, including microcephaly, a devastating birth defect. The government’s response to Zika was lackluster: There was little information about the virus and preventing it and scarce support for those who had it. As a result, myths and fear were rampant, and longstanding barriers to safe abortion and contraception remained in place. Thankfully, women’s groups have a long history in Brazil, and they were well poised to take up the charge. IWHC began supporting women’s organizations in Brazil in 1986 and has invested more than $5 million since then.
Through its Rapid Response funding stream, IWHC was able to get much needed resources to some of these groups to carry out this essential work. Recently, IWHC’s Jessie Clyde and Shena Cavallo of our Strengthening International Partnerships team, held a virtual discussion to highlight the importance of donations to the Rapid Response Fund and to share the achievements of our local grantee partners, who were able to counter an urgent threat.
WATCH: The Impact of Rapid Response Funding to Women’s Groups in Brazil
Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
“The Zika epidemic disproportionately affected black and indigenous communities. It was very important to ensure that the women most affected were also the women leading the interventions.”
“While our partners were actually working on the ground, providing information, services, and the kind of support that communities really needed, the Brazilian National Congress was working on a bill that would have increased penalties for women who thought they had Zika and sought an abortion. Feminists had to mobilize very quickly to ensure that Brazilian women were not being punished any more than they were already being punished.”
“This crisis demonstrated the strength of the women’s movement in the country. In many ways the women’s movement was able to respond more quickly and more comprehensively than the government.”
Photo: Daniele Rodrigues for IWHC
Brazil recently declared the Zika emergency over, but for those living in the most at-risk areas, the virus is a constant threat.
On Thursday, June 2, Friends of IWHC watched Zika, the incredibly moving documentary about five young Brazilian women and the health care professionals struggling to serve them in the middle of the Zika epidemic.