At the height of the Ebola crisis, it was estimated that 75 per cent of people contracting the disease were women. As the primary care givers to the sick, as nurses and as traders, women were more exposed to the virus and as such were often ostracised by their communities.
Three years on from the beginning of the crisis, Conciliation Resources and our partners in West Africa are still supporting local peace platforms to heal the divisions caused by the disease.
Ruth Kabah, 20, was expecting her second child when the Ebola virus reached her community in the Tewor District of Liberia. She lost her husband, both of his parents and his sister to the disease:
I lived in the same house with them and attended to my sick husband before he was taken away to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) where he died. I watched my father-in-law through his sickness till he died. Everyone said I would die.
The community was put under quarantine, and with each new case this was extended by another 21 days. It was whilst under quarantine that Ruth went into labour:
The health workers in my community refused to attend me. The community took pity and called for the ambulance, but when we arrived at the hospital they also refused to attend me. We were left in the ambulance; I delivered my baby on my own. Only my mother was there to support me. Once my mother and I got back, our community refused to get close to us, they were afraid of us because we had come from the ETU.
A lack of understanding and awareness about the Ebola virus and how it was spread generated an atmosphere of fear, and meant that countless people like Ruth and her mother were ostracised by their communities.
In Tewor District, Ruth and her community were supported by District Platforms for Dialogue (DPDs). These are community-based networks of local peacebuilders, established and supported by Conciliation Resources and partners to mediate and peacefully resolve disputes.
During the Ebola crisis, DPDs became a lifeline for many communities. Ruth says:
At first, they were the only people who came to our community. They started to raise awareness about the disease, they brought us food and chlorine. They came to visit us regularly, to talk to us and help us deal with our tensions. After experiencing so many sick people in my family and losing them to the Ebola virus, I listened carefully to what the DPDs were saying.
Inspired by the DPD members, Ruth began to visit others in her community, raising awareness about the virus and how to manage the epidemic. She also began to help heal some of the rifts in her community, and help others who had been ostracised:
Because the nurse in our community had refused to attend me when I was sick, many people no longer wanted her in the community. They wanted to burn down the clinic. I worked with the DPDs to reconcile her with the community. Now she is back at the health centre, attending the sick.
Ruth’s story highlights an important role that women peacebuilders play both in West Africa and around the world. When women participate in community peacebuilding initiatives like the DPDs, it means they can reach and support other women in their community who may otherwise be unable to seek help:
I feel, when I am empowered, I can contribute better to my community and the future of my children.