Covid-19 – looking beyond our shores
Sir, – I write in response to the piece by Michelle Murphy of Social Justice Ireland (“Coronavirus – time for a new social contract in Ireland”, Opinion & Analysis, April 10th).
As a social justice and equality organisation working globally, we wholeheartedly agree that recent events have reconfirmed that public services and social welfare supports are essential assets of any society, and not only when faced with an unprecedented crisis. It has also been brought into sharp relief in recent weeks how interdependent we are – how an individual’s actions, and indeed a country’s actions, affect us all. The very local is deeply connected to the global and back again.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the most fundamental economic and social shock that most of us in Ireland have ever experienced. Unfortunately, these shocking economic and social effects are not unfamiliar to many living in the poorest countries, especially women. The full effects of Covid-19 are starting to be felt in these countries, but what they typically lack is precisely what we rely most on here to offset the worst effects of the pandemic: political capital, timely access to reliable information and analysis, availability of effective public and health services, housing and, of course, basic income support.
The essential prevention elements we are entreated to resort to here – continuously, repeatedly – include information on hygiene etiquette, calls for social distancing, stopping work and staying home. These actions are mostly unattainable to millions of people in lower-income countries.
In India, 1.3 billion people have been forced to stay at home, and they include informal workers, such as domestic workers and street vendors, with no way to earn a living during the lockdown. An estimated two-thirds of African citizens (66 per cent) work in the informal sector but as small-scale entrepreneurs they must work in order to eat. Social distancing measures are beginning to close those businesses, dusk-to-dawn curfews are narrowing the working day, and supply networks for food and goods are being disrupted.
In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, two-thirds of the 4.4 million population are crammed into informal settlements that lack basic services, and entire families can live in a single room. Social distancing, as described in the public policy provisions, isn’t possible.
ActionAid is distributing food packages to the most vulnerable families and through grassroots women’s groups working to tackle the spread of misinformation about the disease, translating vital public health advice into local languages and ensuring it reaches the most marginalised communities. Women are at the forefront of caring for the sick, home-schooling, working in precarious jobs and are at greatest risk of falling through the safety net.
In Kenya, ActionAid has called on the government to ensure guaranteed paid sick leave is available to all workers, both in the formal and informal sectors, and that people living in informal settlements have access to health facilities staffed by skilled professionals, and to free, clean, drinking water. Yes, access to public services and social welfare supports are essential assets of any society when faced with an unprecedented crisis. Unfortunately, not all societies have those supports.
Our call is to harness the positive changes we’ve made in Ireland and use that to help build a better world – a more equal Ireland, and a more equal world – for all. We in Ireland deserve this, and so too does every citizen of the globe. – Yours, etc,
Parnell Square, Dublin 1.