Our world abruptly shifted in 2020 as we entered a global pandemic. COVID‑19 is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Since the first confirmed American case of a novel coronavirus reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on January 21, 2020, there have been 24 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in just one year.
We have borne many unprecedented changes in the fabric of our daily lives. By February 14, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified this as global epidemic and suggested curtailing mass gatherings. PPSEAWA delegates to the 64th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women were disappointed when it was called off on February 28th, just a week before its opening, and CSW64 was amended to a one-day procedural meeting on March 9. WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, and lockdowns were implemented after March 20 in states where we have local chapters: California, Illinois and New York.
The safety of PPSEAWA sisters is our first consideration, so we adapted. We canceled in-person PPSEAWA events with deep regret, and pivoted to connecting online and holding service projects from home.
COVID HEALTH CRISIS RESPONSE
We faced an acute medical mask and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage. There was an order to wear face masks in public on 23 April 2020 so the Chicago Chapter had a mask-making service project. We circulated a list of places with essential workers that could use fabric face masks as well as instructions on how to make masks from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In May, Dr. Mandy Chen, President of PPSEAWA Taiwan, donated 98 boxes of medical masks to Akari Yamada, for PPSEAWA members and frontline healthcare workers at MacNeal Hospital. Patsy Chen, PPSEAWA USA National President, also donated face masks from Taiwan to the Chicago Chapter in September.
COVID RELIEF PROJECTS
Women and children in vulnerable positions are at the heart of PPSEAWA’s mission. Sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 created additional difficulties and risks for violence survivors. There were over 60 women and children in the emergency shelter and longer-term housing program operated by the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, a community partner of the Chicago Chapter. Many women in the shelter were essential workers, as home health aides, grocery store workers, or hospital workers. Not only could they not shelter in their own homes, but they were out every day helping their communities in these times of extraordinary need. So, Chicago Chapter members dropped off in-kind donations of face masks, sanitary supplies, non-perishable food, and other household necessities for these survivors in April. The Chapter held two collection drives between May-December to raise funds for domestic violence services such as counseling and support services for residential survivors, financial coaching for residential survivors and families living in Bridges, and support for YWCulinary (this vocational training for low-income women in food handling and services was launched in 2019 but went online due to COVID restrictions).
SHIFT TO VIRTUAL PPSEAWA MEETINGS
Due to travel restrictions abroad and social distancing at home, we managed to bridge an intergenerational and gender digital gap to connect online and carry out our mission in 2020. The Chicago Chapter’s Annual Meeting became our first virtual meeting on June 5. The annual meeting for PPSEAWA USA took place for the first time as a virtual meeting in July 2020, and we held our first election with an online ballot in 2021.
In lieu of in-person activities, we began monthly virtual programs via Zoom conference calls in August, 2020. It has not been easy but we have kept in touch through phone calls and group texts on Google Groups, LINE, Messenger, and WhatsApp. We expanded our use of social media through a PPSEAWA Pinterest and opened a PPSEAWA Padlet site with recommendations for activities members could do from home in April. We even utilized the PPSEAWA USA Facebook page differently under COVID – in the absence of in-person events, the focus is on recurring themes in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
We have stayed connected to PPSEAWA International. Although the Midterm Conference in Tokyo, Japan, was canceled, it was rescheduled as a virtual conference using the Zoom platform from November 10-11, 2020. PPSEAWA International Council asked the National Member Organizations to think of this as an opportunity for their local members who had not experienced an international conference to learn more about PPSEAWA’s mission and shared goals. Over 120 participants from 13 countries in the Asia Pacific region joined the Zoom Midterm Conference based out of Bangkok, Thailand. We managed time zone differences from Karachi to New York to be with our sisters in Australia, Canada, Fiji, Hawaii, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Samoa, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and USA.
Despite the closure of the United Nations to the public, PPSEAWA co-sponsored a virtual panel discussion on November 17, 2020, entitled “Countering Misinformation and Fake News in Many Spheres: COVID-19 and Vaccines; Women and Leadership; Minority Group Portrayal; and Emotionally Charged Headlines Impact on Judgment” with the Communications Coordination Committee for the United Nations (CCCUN), International Council of Women (ICW-CIF); UNA-USA COO; and World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations. Several PPSEAWA USA members participated in the 65th Session of Commission on the Status of Women, the first virtual women’s conference at the United Nations, from March 15-26, 2021. Some members served as panelists at NGO Forum Parallel Events on renewable energy, Feminist Leadership, and the Role of NPOs/NGOs in Formation of Public Policies.
Reflecting back on the 2020 summer, the coronavirus lockdowns were accompanied by intense climate disasters and systemic racial injustice across the United States, exposing severe economic inequalities and disparities in care access. This has strengthened our resolve in 2021 to work for socio-economic protection of women and girls, a core value of PPSEAWA’s mission. Just over a year later,I feel a renewed sense of purpose to build equity and gender inclusiveness among PPSEAWA USA members.