Thousands of women and children in quarantine centres across Vietnam have been protected through accelerated safeguarding measures during the COVID-19 pandemic in a recent pioneering effort by the Government of Vietnam, UNICEF and UN Women.
“Staff in my quarantine centre are very friendly and caring but they are all men so I found hesitance to ask for their help in buying women’s personal hygiene products especially sanitary pads,” said Phuong Le, a 39-year-old woman who is spending 14 days in a quarantine centre in a military facility, in Soc Trang province, south Vietnam, following international travel.
Phuong and her two sons are among thousands of women and children in quarantine centres across Vietnam since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in January 2020. The Government of Vietnam spearheaded the protection effort with 14 days compulsory quarantine for all immigrants and those who have direct contact with COVID-19 positive cases as one of its strategies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Quarantine centers are established in all provinces using existing military facilities or students dormitories which can meet the basic conditions for people to maintain social distance from each other and from the community.
Phuong and her kids, aged seven and nine, are placed in one room in an area reserved for women only whereas her husband stays in another room in a separate area for men. Soldiers sterilize the rooms, log their temperature and clear out their bins daily to prevent any possible infection from spreading. They got tested a few days after they arrived the centre.
“Life here is easy and very peaceful. I feel safe as men and women are separated into different areas and the door locks from the inside, but I still need my husband’s help to take care of my two sons and daily chores. They can be naughty and both have homework from their online classes. I also have my own work to do. I really think families with kids should be arranged to stay together in quarantine centres”.
After three days, Phuong successfully persuaded the soldiers to let her husband move into her room.
“We live in a clean room with basic facilities as the soldiers normally live: hard surface single beds and ceiling fans. Meals and personal hygiene supplies, for example re-useable facemasks, towels, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper etc. are provided by the centre for free. Everyone receives same package. Kids are treated the same as adults while they have different needs. The woman living next to my room has a toddler who cannot eat the food so she asks the centre staff for help to buy solid food and milk everyday.” Phuong explained.
Phuong’s quarantine experience is not unique. Many women and children in quarantine centres around the world face difficulties in accessing services that respond to their needs.
“Children, adolescents and women are among the most vulnerable in any pandemic situation,” said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Vietnam Representative, “In quarantine facilities, particularly, they may face prominent safety risks that must be addressed during their stay. These risks include accommodation safety, violence and sexual abuse, hygiene and nutrition safety and disclosure of personal information.”
These gender-specific issues are the target of a recent pioneering effort by the Government of Vietnam, UNICEF and UN Women.
The effort saw tens of thousands of guidelines distributed to 392 quarantine centres across the country to ensure that managers and staff are provided with instructions to put protection measures in place targeting children, adolescents and women. The guidelines cover safe living and proper hygiene conditions, nutritional intake, gender-sensitive security measures to protect these groups from violence and sexual abuse, reference to available psychological counselling as well as regulations on information safety, among others. Tips to prevent psychosocial impacts on children, adolescents and women have also been given to improve their quality of life in the facilities.
“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not gender neutral, as it affects men and women differently. Therefore, we cannot be gender blind in our responses to the pandemic. We strongly encourage the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Defense and local authorities who are running quarantine facilities to make use of these guidelines and put in place measures to ensure each quarantine centre is a safe place for women and children.” Elisa Fernandez Saenz, UN Women Head of Office in Vietnam said. She adds that paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen the COVID-19 response in Vietnam.
“In the fight against COVID-19, the Government of Vietnam has put the lives of the people, including children and women first and foremost. When it comes to those in special circumstances such as in quarantine centres, the Ministry of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs, UNICEF and UN Women and other international organisations in Vietnam have provided measures to meet the specific needs of these groups in a timely manner,” stated Dang Hoa Nam, Director of the Children’s Affairs, Ministry of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA).” In these situations, he stressed, children and women need to be provided with information, skills, encouragement and full support.
The guidelines and communication materials have also been made available online on UNICEF, UN Women and MOLISA’s websites and social media. There have also been numerous communication interventions on social media targeting children, adolescents and women to raise awareness and provide solutions since the beginning of the pandemic. On mass media, the government and UN agencies have held various talks to draw public attention to protect the most vulnerable groups.