FAWAKA with you(th)
Beneath the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also a shadow pandemic happening of domestic violence
As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, everyone is trying to adapt to this ‘new normal ‘in their own way. Adapting in these challenging times can especially be difficult for young people. UNICEF Suriname recently conducted a youth KAP survey to get more insight into how much young people know about the virus and how COVID-19 has impacted their lives.
This blog is a follow up to the key findings of the youth survey aimed at getting the stories behind the data. FAWAKA translates to “How are you doing?” in ‘Sranan Tongo’ (English-based creole language)
In this week’s ‘FAWAKA with You (th)’ we will be featuring Human Rights activist Modesty van der Leuv.
Modesty is 20 years, living in Paramaribo. She is a medical student at the Anton de Kom University Suriname, member of the Youth Advisory Group of the UNFPA and UNICEF volunteer. She also participated in the World Children’s Day ‘Krutu’ (debate) organized by UNICEF Suriname and The Back Lot.
Dealing with COVID-19
Through my studies, I already learned a lot about pandemics. So I knew COVID-19 would arrive in Suriname as well sooner or later. When the borders were closed and Suriname entered a lockdown period, everything started to get real, I knew this could take a while and everything would change.
It was really hard in the beginning. You feel limited in your movement. There were so many plans, I had to cancel. You follow the guidelines from the government, but you’re not happy about it. I was home a lot and spent a lot of time with family. I tried looking for the positive sides of things; for example, using this as an opportunity to start reading again and organizing movie nights with friends online.
I miss being around people, especially in the activist way (Trainings and creating solutions with communities). There are many online initiatives or campaigns, however this doesn’t compare to face to face interactions. It’s not the same. In person, you feel more comfortable to open up, through the phone it’s a bit harder.
From outspoken girl to human rights activist
My passion for human rights started at a very early age. When I noticed that teachers in middle schools made offensive comments about the LGBT community, it surprised me that it was so normalized, I felt the need to correct my teachers and express my personal opinion. The passion to stand up for the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in the community has always followed me from my childhood through adolescence.
In 2017, I had the opportunity to go to the USA for a leadership training for youth in the Caribbean. That’s where I met other young activists and had many discussions about socio-economic issues in the Caribbean region. That experience ultimately triggered me to actively advocate for human rights issues. Upon my return to Suriname, I felt so inspired, I decided to join the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) of the UNFPA and also participated in UNICEF Suriname’s World Children’s Day debate, where I had the opportunity to present a speech in the National Parliament of Suriname.
I see myself as a human right activist in the broadest way. But I particularly feel the need to advocate for vulnerable women and children. Women’s health is such a complex thing; many women develop their identity around this ‘care giving role’, often forgetting themselves, by putting everybody’s needs before their own.
COVID-19 Impact on women and girls
Beneath the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also a shadow pandemic happening of domestic violence. With the current guidelines of the government, everyone is advised to stay home, many women and children are stuck home with their abusers. They don’t have an escape. In normal situations, they have the time and space to go out of the house and have physical contact with friends to tell them about it. Currently many women and children are under 24/7 surveillance of their abusers, leaving them trapped with no way out. The financial stress of the pandemic may also affect the mental state of men and they could, in turn, pass that stress on children or women.
Next to the rising cases of domestic violence; the access to family planning services is also strained due to the pandemic. The chances of an unplanned pregnancy may be higher due to the current circumstances; it’s harder to find condoms or other contraceptives.
I see myself as a human rights activist in the broadest way. But I particularly feel the need to advocate for vulnerable women and children. Women’s health is such a complex thing; many women develop their identity around this ‘caregiving role’, often forgetting themselves, by putting everybody’s needs before their own
My message for young people
COVID-19 highlighted many problems that were already present in our society. This pandemic challenged us to think out of the box; I see many innovative solutions related to distance learning, businesses and restaurants. We have to continue with this mindset, when we think about the future. This will not be the last pandemic. We have to stay on our feet and be prepared.
Another thing this pandemic also highlighted is the importance of investing in quality health care and how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle.
What message do I have for young girls?
I want to remind them to look at our COVID-19 management team; we were led by two strong women. I want young girls in Suriname to know that nothing is ever out of their reach. In a few years it might as well be you in that leading position., leading an entire country through a catastrophe.
Take this time to get to know yourself better. Work on yourself, so we can come out stronger out of this pandemic. Think about the problems you’d like to solve and how you would like to contribute to the society. I just want women to know how much they can accomplish.