Expressing our grave concern about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, sharing our solidarity and sympathy

Dear friends, 

We hope this newsletter finds you and your families and colleagues, safe and well. We are sharing an update from WECF, in which we want to express our grave concern about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and some of the steps and recommendations. We also want to share our solidarity and sympathy for those of you who are mourning or in fear of losing a relative or friend.  

Inequalities exacerbated

We are very worried hearing from our partners across the world how the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating inequalities. In India, for example,  millions of migrant workers have been expelled from their temporary jobs and homes in the cities and are without income, food and shelter, see article by Arundathi Roy here.  Women are the majority among  informal, migrant and precarious workers globally. They are also the main providers of care to their family and working more hours than men, see UN Women facts and figures. The Covid pandemic and the lock down measures are increasing the risk of violence in the public domain as well as in homes. Extreme poverty and hunger are rising, see article by WIEGO “to die from hunger of the virus” here. As many as 500 million additional people may fall into acute income poverty in the next few months, see here.  We have been receiving distressing news from our partners in Morocco, where the women’s Argan cooperatives have lost their income as buyers are inaccessible, as well as from Ethiopia, Paraguay, Uganda and South Africa, where partners are struggling to access medicines, water and food. 

Power grabs by populist governments

We are concerned that populist  governments are – on the one hand – putting their populations at great risk by delaying needed action on the pandemic, and – on the other hand – are exploiting the emergency for power grabs, restricting fundamental freedoms and democratic parliamentary control, for example in Hungary, and Brazil, see “Authoritarian leaders may use Covid-19 to tighten their grip”  here

Famine and death rates among low-income populations

The quarantine measures taken without ensuring basic social services, is resulting in famine and death of the lower income groups of populations. Shocking statistics from the USA indicate that African Americans account for extremely high levels of the death toll from the virus in Chicago and Louisiana, due to the lack of access to hospitals, see NY Times.  Very worrying stories are also reaching us from slums such as Kibera (Kenya), Khayelitsha (South Africa), as well as from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Nepal and India, where food prices are on the rise and government support is needed immediately (El Pais). Our partners from Asia are sharing “elders know what hunger feels like”. 

Health sector on the brink of collapse due to austerity measures

Decades of austerity measures in the health care sector have led to closures of regional hospitals and health services in general, as well as intensive care beds, which are now so desperately needed, see Gabriele Köhler’s article here. Instead of taking preventive measures for a new pandemic, the International Monetary Fund has been promoting short-term interventions by the private sector. The disastrous Covid19 situation in many European countries and the US, is amongst others a result of this neoliberal  policy where hospitals have been closed and forced to become profit driven. This is most evident in the US that has the most expensive, less effective private health care system in the world, see article by a.o. Isabel Ortiz here.

Impact of COVID goes beyond death figures

Men are more likely to die from the virus, as statistics so far suggest, as  highlighted by media, but the containment restrictions are having a great impact on women and non-binary persons. The cost of domestic violence globally, with 137 women dying every day, is on the rise due to Covid-19 quarantine measures. This “shadow pandemic” cannot be ignored, says UNWOMEN, see also “in quarantine with an abuser” here. Problematic is also that women who are pregnant or needing abortion care have less access to health services, see interview with UNFPA. Instead of strengthening women’s rights, our partners of Wo=Men report how COVID-19 is also being used to push back further on the rights of women (in Dutch).

Women on the frontlines

Women make up 65% to 90% of front line health workers globally, and in addition are disproportionately impacted by the quarantine measures, as primary carers in families. These front line public health workers who are now being celebrated by people clapping at the windows, are severely underpaid, and in many countries not given the basic sanitary protection nor basic workers rights, see here. This week the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights approached the High Court in Harare to compel the government to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) and adequately equip public hospitals to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Pollution and environmental destruction increases COVID-19 risk

Research is also underway showing evidence that people exposed to higher levels of pollution are less resilient to the virus. For example, toxic chemical pollution is linked to higher risk of diabetes, which increases risk of severe Covid19 cases. Higher levels of air pollution are also linked to higher death rates from Covid19, see NYTimes. At the same time, polluting petro-chemical industries are calling for bail-outs and roll-back of environmental legislation, see Asian NGOs call against tax-breaks for corporations. We are also worried to see governments retracting on their climate commitments, for example Japan. UN Environment has also warned about the next pandemic coming, if we do not take action to halt the biodiversity loss, with sales of wild animals being suspected as the source of COVID-19.  

Beyond the Pandemic – multilateral cooperation required

It has been clear for a long time that we need a transformation, that we need to move away from neo-liberal policies that are at the root causes of the crisis, that have left us unprepared for this pandemic and that are sustaining many gendered inequalities. It is important that when this crisis will be finally over, it will not be a continuation of business as usual. What is needed is multilateral coordinated action that is gender-equitable and environmentally-sustainable, as presented last week by Antonio Guiteres, Secretary General of the United Nations , see “Gender Equality in time of COVID-19here. The Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week, which emphasized that women and children are among the most vulnerable in times of war and face the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from the pandemic, is already showing first results. Two million people have signed the ceasefire petition of UN SG Guterres: https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/global_ceasefire_loc/

Actions being taken

Many feminist and environmental organisations have already started to take measures to address immediate and longer-term impacts of Covid-19.

  • With the pandemic and lockdown in almost all countries, we have received requests from grassroots groups to support their emergency measures and we have obtained flexibility from our donors for local Women2030 program partners to shift planned activities to support feminist and environmental groups to respond to the crisis in Asia, Africa and Latin-America. 
  • The Covid-19 crisis shows more clearly than ever before why our work for gender-equitable, climate and environment friendly development is crucial. We continue our policy advocacy with our partners for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is even more meaningful now as it gives us the bases for recovery and transformation. Our Gender Just Climate Solutions network continues the replication and support of local best practices, and our partners continue to monitor their governments on progress, despite the pandemic and lockdown. Even if meetings in person are no longer possible, we are training our partners and colleagues on virtual advocacy tools, and successfully organised the online Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development.   
  • We also continue our support for the global women’s rights agenda, with our engagement in the Beijing+25 Generation Equality process, and the Action Coalitions that are being created for accelerated implementation of global commitments, even though the physical meetings have been postponed till 2021. We are supporting the core group of UNWOMEN, Mexico and France through the advisory group with a special focus on Feminist Action for Climate Justice and Gender responsive technologies.
  • Our partners from Asia Pacific forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) are campaigning to cancel the debt. Join the campaign #CancelTheDebt  Debt relief now to let countries fight the pandemic. Cancelling the debt for 69 low-income countries would free up US$25.5 billion to help fight Covid19 this year. APWLD has released a statement on the failure of neo-liberal capitalism and the need for feminist solidary, see here. They are also supporting the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants urgent action campaign.  
  • Our partners from Global Forest Coalition are calling on governments to not bail out the polluters see: #SavePeopleNotPlanes and “No Bail out of Oil and Gas”, as well as the call for #JustRecovery and its 5 key principles. You can all support their campaigns.  
  • Our French office is providing tips on how to avoid toxic chemicals impacting your and especially children’s health, during the lockdown, see here. WECF France also came with a strong statement on the impact of Covid19: “are women and men equal in light of the virus?”. And so did WECF Germany see here.
  • The crisis is strengthening feminist solidarity. We are supporting the creation of a global feminist collective Covid-response network with our partners from the Women’s Major Group on Sustainable Development, the Women’s Human Rights Caucus and Climate Women and Gender Constituency. The feminist network is creating a space for feminists around the world to come together in solidarity. A space for personal reflections and to share campaigns, resources and statements. It is also mapping how legislation is being changed in various countries and how it impacts women’s rights and gender equality, and we are sharing skills on virtual meetings and advocacy
  • We are working with partners on advocacy and awareness-raising about the post-Covid19 challenges to make sure that we don’t regress and go back to business as usual, but turn the ship around on a sustainable gender-equitable and climate just course. This time we cannot accept less than system change! We can build on UNCTAD’s “COVID19 requires gender-equal responses to save economies” and TNI’s analysis of the coming global recession and building an internationalist response to Coronavirus

 In the coming weeks and months we will share many more examples of the power & resilience that comes from within the eco-feminist movement. Let’s continue in this spirit of social solidarity. 

 Take care of yourself and others!