Ebola and Accusation: How Gender and Stigmatization Prolonged the Epidemic in Sierra Leone
A year into the Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone, points of friction remained between efforts to contain new outbreaks and community responses to these efforts. As an anthropologist embedded with Oxfam’s Ebola response, my role was to identify and probe these points of conflict, in order to support more inclusive, community-led efforts to prevent new infections and contain outbreaks. Rapid qualitative research revealed that gender and stigma played key roles in prolonging the epidemic. Despite efforts to reduce negative attitudes towards those affected by the Ebola virus, layers of stigma and blame remained embedded in response activities, from government-level policies to community-level interactions. These attitudes strained gender roles in ways that created barriers to compliance with Ebola prevention and treatment advice. This research highlighted the need for deeper community engagement in epidemic response, including reflexive processes on the part of humanitarian responders to interrogate “common sense” assumptions that may reflect Western-centric biases.
KeywordsEbola virus disease Gender Humanitarian Stigma Sierra Leone Bondo society Community response Women’s health Ebola response Anthropologists Blame Health system
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