Delegates from Asia and Africa met during a two-day conference to discuss ICPD25 programme of action. Credit: APDA
Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 23 2021 (IPS) – Politicians from Asia and Africa shared activism anecdotes demonstrating their determination to meet ICPD 25 commitments. They were speaking at a hybrid conference held simultaneously in Kampala, Uganda, and online.
Ugandan MP Kabahenda Flavia dramatically told the conference that women parliamentarians in her country “stampeded the budget process” to ensure there was potential to recruit midwives and nurses at health centres. Another told of a breastfeeding lawmaker who brought her child to parliament, forcing it to create inclusive facilities for new mothers.
In his opening remarks, former Prime Minister of Japan and chair of the APDA, Yasuo Fukuda, commented that the pandemic had “dramatically changed the world. It has exposed enormous challenges faced by African and Asian countries, which lack sufficient infrastructure in health and medical services.”
With only nine years until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Fukuda told parliamentarians they needed to respond to the swift pace of global change.
His sentiments were echoed by Ugandan MP Marie Rose Nguini Effa, who said in Africa, the pandemic had “affected the lives of many people, including the aged, youth and women. Many young people lost their jobs while girls’ and young women’s access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services have plunged.”
Addressing how parliamentarians can make a difference, Pakistani MP Romina Khurshid Alam intimated legislation was not the only route.
Other actions were needed to achieve SDGs, especially those relating to women. For example, the act of paying women the same as their male counterparts would more than compensate for the estimated $264 billion costs over ten years of achieving SDG 5 on gender equality.
Alam, who is also the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians forum, quoted figures from the World Economic Forum, which had looked at the benefits of pay equity. Each year the discrimination “takes $16 trillion off the table”.
“If we just started paying women the same amount of money that we pay men for the same job. Your country will generate that GDP. We will not have to beg anyone for that money,” she said.
The ‘shadow pandemic’ also threatens to destroy any progress made on agenda 2030, Alam said. People were put into lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease – but not all people live in three-bedroom houses. Overcrowding in poor areas, the stress of lockdowns led to a 300 percent increase in violence.
Flavia said in Uganda, women’s issues were taken extremely seriously – their role, she said, should not be underestimated.
“Women don’t only give birth. They are the backbone of most economies,” she noted, adding that more than 80 percent of the informal sector is made up of women. She listed various laws created to ensure women are accorded full and equal dignity, including article 33 of the Ugandan constitution, which enshrined this.
Women parliamentarians saw their role as custodians of the ICPD 25 programme as action – and were prepared to act if their demands were not taken seriously, including holding up the budgeting process until critical health posts were funded.
Constatino Kanyasu, an MP from Tanzania, called for collective action.
“Developing countries should merge those efforts with other issues, by addressing Covid-19 together with ICPD+25 commitments horizontally,” she said.
In a presentation shared at the conference, Jyoti Tewari, UNFPA for East and South African regions, showed some progress indices since the ICPD conference, including a 49 percent decrease in maternal mortality before the pandemic.
However, he said there was still a long way to go, with 80 000 women dying from preventable deaths during pregnancy. However, the lockdowns during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had prolonged disruptions to SRHR services.
It was necessary to “sustain evidence-based advocacy to promptly detect changes to service delivery and utilization, and support countries to implement mitigation strategies,” Tewari said. Ugandan Deputy Speaker Anita Annet Among expressed concern that one in five adolescent girls falls pregnant in Africa – many of whom drop out of school. With schools closed, the situation had worsened.
She called on parliamentarians to be the voice of the voiceless and ensure “you make strong laws that protect the women and youth. Ensure the appropriation of monies that support these marginalized people.”
A declaration following the meeting included advocating for increased budgets to meet the ICPD 25 commitments, including sexual and reproductive health services for all and contributing to the three zeros – preventable maternal deaths, unmet family planning needs, and eliminating gender-based violence.
A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR
CARACAS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in the last six years has led countries in the developing South, Venezuela’s neighbours, to set an example with respect to welcoming and integrating displaced populations, with shared benefits for the new arrivals and the nations that receive them.
In this region “there is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations,” Eduardo Stein, head of the largest assistance programme for displaced Venezuelans, told IPS.
According to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,650,000 people have left Venezuela, mainly crossing into neighbouring countries, as migrants, displaced persons or refugees, as of July 2021.
“This region is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations.” — Eduardo Stein
Colombia, the neighbour with the most intense historical relationship, stands out for receiving daily flows of hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelans, who already number almost 1.8 million in the country, and for providing them with Temporary Protection Status that grants them documentation and access to jobs, services and other rights.
Colombia’s Fundación Renacer, which has assisted thousands of child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and other types of sexual and gender-based violence, is a model for how to welcome and help displaced persons.
Renacer, staffed by activists such as Mayerlin Vergara, 2020 winner of the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Refugee Award for outstanding aid workers who help refugees, displaced and stateless people, rescues girls and young women from places like brothels and bars where they are forced into sexual or labour exploitation, often by trafficking networks that capture the most vulnerable migrants.
“In Colombian society as a whole there has been a process of understanding, after the phenomenon was the other way around for several decades in the 20th century, of people displaced by the violence and crisis in Colombia being welcomed in Venezuela,” Camilo González, president of the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies, told IPS.
When the great migratory wave began in 2014-2015, “many Venezuelans were taken on as half-price cheap labour by businesses, such as coffee harvesters and others in the big cities, but that situation has improved, even despite the slowdown of the pandemic,” said González.
Stein mentioned the positive example set by Colombia’s flower exporters, which employed many Venezuelan women in cutting and packaging, a task that did not require extensive training.
The head of the R4V, who was vice-president of Guatemala between 2004 and 2008 and has held various international positions, noted that in the first phase, the receiving countries appreciated the arrival of “highly prepared Venezuelans, very well trained professionals.”
Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR
“One example would be the thousands of Venezuelan engineers who arrived in Argentina and were integrated into productive activities in a matter of weeks,” he said.
But, Stein pointed out, “the following wave of Venezuelans leaving their country was not made up of professionals; the profile changed to people with huge unsatisfied basic needs, without a great deal of training but with basic skills, and nevertheless the borders remained open, and they received very generous responses.”
But, he acknowledged, in some cases “the arrival of this irregular, undocumented migration was linked to acts of violence and violations of the law, which created internal tension.”
Iván Briscoe, regional head of the Brussels-based conflict observatory International Crisis Group, told IPS that in the case of Colombia, “it has been impressive to receive almost two million Venezuelans, in a country of 50 million inhabitants, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.”
Colombia continues to be plagued by social problems, as shown by the street protests raging since April, “and therefore the temporary protection status, a generous measure by President Iván Duque’s government, does not guarantee that Venezuelan migrants will have access to the social services they may demand,” Briscoe said.
The large number of Venezuelans “means an additional cost of 100 million dollars per year for the health services alone,” said González, who spoke to IPS by telephone from the Colombian capital.
Against this backdrop, there have been expressions of xenophobia, as various media outlets interpreted statements by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who after a crime committed by a Venezuelan, suggested the deportation of “undesirable” nationals from that country.
There were also demonstrations against the influx of Venezuelans in Ecuador and Panama, as well as Peru, where the policy of President-elect Pedro Castillo towards the one million Venezuelan immigrants is still unclear, as well as deportations from Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, and new obstacles to their arrival in the neighbouring Dutch islands.
“Not everything has been rosy,” Stein admitted, “as there are still very complex problems, such as the risks that, between expressions of xenophobia and the danger of trafficking, the most vulnerable migrant girls and young women face.”
However, the head of the R4V considered that “we have entered a new phase, beyond the immediate assistance that can and should be provided to those who have just arrived, and that is the insertion and productive or educational integration in the communities.”
Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR
Throughout the region “there are places that have seen that immigrants represent an attraction for investment and labour and productive opportunities for the host communities themselves.”
Another example is provided by Brazil, with its Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which includes a programme to disperse throughout its vast territory Venezuelans who came in through the northern border and first settled, precariously, in cities in the state of Amazonas.
More than 260,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil – among them some 5,000 indigenous Waraos, from the Orinoco delta, and a similar number of Pemon Indians, close to the border – and some 50,000 have been recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government.
Brazil has the seventh largest Venezuelan community, after Colombia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It is followed by Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Throughout the region, organisations have mushroomed, not only to provide relief but also to actively seek the insertion of Venezuelans, in some cases headed by Venezuelans themselves, as in the case of the Fundacolven foundation in Bogota.
“We are active on two fronts, because first we motivate companies to take on workers who, as immigrants, are willing to go the ‘extra mile’,” said Venezuelan Mario Camejo, one of the directors of Fundacolven.
As for the immigrants, “we help them prepare and polish their skills so that they can successfully search for and find stable employment, if they have already ‘burned their bridges’ and do not plan to return,” he added.
On this point, Stein commented that the growing insertion of Venezuelans “shows how this crisis can evolve without implying an internal solution in Venezuela,” a country whose projected population according to the census of 10 years ago should have been 32.9 million and is instead around 28 million.
Based on surveys carried out in several countries, the head of R4V indicated that “the majority of Venezuelans who have migrated and settled in these host countries are not interested in going back in the short term.”
Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR
According to Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have benefited from the fact that the countries of the region “are an example, and the rest of the world can learn a lot about the inclusion and integration of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
In the north of the region, Mexico is dealing with a migration phenomenon on four fronts. On one hand, 12 million Mexicans live in the United States. And on the other, every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way through the country, mainly Central Americans and in recent years also people from the Caribbean, Venezuelans and Africans.
In addition, the United States sends back to Mexico hundreds of thousands of people who cross its southern border without the required documents. And in fourth place, the least well-known aspect: Mexico is home to more than one million migrants and refugees who have chosen to make their home in that country.
Major recipients of refugees and asylum seekers in other regions are Turkey, in the eastern Mediterranean, hosting 3.7 million (92 percent Syrians), and, with 1.4 million displaced persons each, Pakistan (which has received a massive influx of people from Afghanistan) and Uganda (refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries).
In Sudan there are one million refugees, Bangladesh, Iran and Lebanon host 900,000 each, while in the industrialised North the cases of Germany, which received 1.2 million refugees from the Middle East, and the United States, which has 300,000 refugees and one million asylum seekers in its territory, stand out.
The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2
The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3
While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.
The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.
In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.
Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.
According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4
Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth
Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5
Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6
Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.
In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.
The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.
The UN World Data Forum
The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.
The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.
These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.
This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.
The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.
The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.
This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.
Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:
• Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level; • Better ways to communicate data and statistics; • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities; • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms; • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection; • How to secure more funding for data.
The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.
Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.
World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.
To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.
The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.
1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard 2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition 3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020 4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/ 5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020 6 The World Bank
Waldeli Melleiro is a project manager at the Brazil Office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Christoph Heuser is the resident representative at the FES Brazil Office.
On 31 January 2018, the Government of Brazil deposited the formal instrument of ratification with the International Labour Office for ratification of the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, 2011 (No. 189) . Accordingly, Brazil became the twenty-fifth member State of the ILO and the fourteenth member State in the Americas region to ratify this Convention. It is estimated that there are about seven million domestic workers in Brazil, six million of them women, and more than in any other country in the world. Moreover, the majority of domestic workers are women, with indigenous peoples and persons of African descent being over-represented in the domestic work sector. But how has the Convention been implemented?. Credit: International Labour Organization (ILO), Geneva
SAO PAULO, Brazil, Oct 21 2020 (IPS) – The inclusivity of Brazilian society is put to the test as the coronavirus pandemic highlights a labour sector ripe with historical and structural inequality: domestic work.
The first death of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro was emblematic of the country’s inequities: a domestic worker who caught the new coronavirus from her employer. Much has since been written about the Brazilian government and its catastrophic inaction during the pandemic.
But the new normal also highlights a sector that has always been present in Brazil but with little public attention. A sector, in which the historical and structural inequality in Brazil is very much represented: domestic work.
With about 6 million female workers, domestic work is the second-largest occupation for women in Brazil. They are mostly black (about 65 per cent) and many are over 45 years old (46.5 per cent).
They start working sometimes as teenagers or even children, and because they lack access to most labour rights and social protection, even after 50 years or more of continuous work they still do not have the right to retirement and well-deserved rest.
They live far from their workplaces, often earn less than the legal minimum wage of around 200 USD per month, and are nonetheless often responsible (45 per cent of them) for the income of their families.
Among the poorest of these workers (less than 1,5 USD/day), 58.1 percent are heads of household, which gives an indication of the extreme poverty in which their families live.
The lack of labour protection
Domestic workers have long been fighting for recognition of the value of their work and for labour rights. The struggle in Brazil goes back to the 1930s, with the founding of the Professional Association of Domestic Employees of Santos.
In 1988 the new Constitution guaranteed paid leave and a 13th month of salary, among others. But domestic workers continued to have fewer rights than those in other professions.
Several further rights were only obtained in 2013 under the former administration of Dilma Rousseff, including the limiting of working hours to eight per day and 44 per week, the right to recognition of overtime, and paid retirement.
Despite these advances, many female workers are still excluded from many of those rights, which are guaranteed only to those who work at least three days a week in the same job. And even where the conditions are met, many employers persistently fail to respect workers’ rights, while monitoring compliance is difficult.
Those who work for the same employer for one or two days a week, known as day workers, remain completely unassisted by the law and social protection.
Furthermore, the degree of informality in domestic work is very high: In 2018, only 27 percent of women workers had a formal contract, if we are adding those paying individually even without having a formal contract, only 39 percent contributed to social security.
Thus, the vast majority of female domestic workers are not entitled to unemployment insurance, sickness benefit and retirement.
The new normal of work during and after the pandemic
Domestic work is one of the occupations most affected by the pandemic.
Many workers are in high-risk age groups; their working conditions expose them to more possibilities of contamination; they use public transportation over long distances; they care for elderly people or children with unavoidable physical proximity; and they often have to work without proper protective masks, gloves, or alcohol gel.
Or even worse: in order to keep their jobs and limit contamination, some stay for days and weeks on end in the homes where they work, away from their families.
As the pandemic took hold, the government allowed employers of domestic workers to suspend the contract for up to two months, with two months of secure employment after the suspension. It also allowed partial employment.
But this only helped the minority of domestic workers with such a contract. Most have precarious positions and many of those, especially day workers, have been dismissed and left without income and vulnerable.
The government also started paying 600 reals (around 109 USD) per month for those in need, for example informal workers, rising to 1,200 reals (218 USD) per month for some cases, for example single mothers. However, many women had difficulty in registering and accessing this aid.
Despite the pandemic, domestic workers are standing firm in the fight for labour rights. In March 2020 Fenatrad (National Federation of Domestic Workers) launched a campaign under the slogan “Take care of those who take care of you, leave your domestic worker at home, with paid wages.”
According to Luiza Batista, president of Fenatrad, there was good coverage in social networks, but in practice there was little adhesion by employers. Fenatrad has been carrying out an intense programme of denunciation and negotiation.
The group has also campaigned against a controversial measure by some state governments, for example Pará, to declare domestic work as an essential service during lockdown, forcing workers to continue working.
This measure was reversed after pressure from Fenatrad to specify what functions within domestic work are essential. The category was refined to include only nannies, careers for the elderly, and those caring for people with special needs and whose employers are keyworkers, e.g. in the health or security sectors.
Still the question remains: if domestic work is essential why it is not valued? It is fundamental work, but it is marginalized and carries the prejudices of a society in which social rights are not within reach for everyone.
The pandemic stresses the importance of domestic work and at the same time showed its precariousness as well as the inequality within the Brazilian society. It is time to reflect on the need for change in paid domestic work, aiming at a fair and inclusive society.
The new normal should recognize and value domestic work, including adequate labour rights as an important step on the long way to a more just society.
Marianna Belalba Barreto is the Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation & Aarti Narsee is a Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Black Lives Matter Protests, Washington DC, June 2020. Credit: Ted Eytan
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Oct 16 2020 (IPS) – More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus.
Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent.
But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.
Even before the pandemic freedom of expression was under threat. In 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor reported that censorship was the most common violation during that year, occurring across 178 countries.
Now, under the guise of stopping the spread of what they characterise as ‘fake news’, many governments continue to target the media.
Free-flowing information and unrestricted speech are vital during a pandemic. People need to receive accurate and up-to-date information on the emergency, not least so they can protect themselves and their families.
As frontline workers, journalists have a crucial role to play in disseminating important information, often putting their own lives at risk. But during the pandemic they have faced harassment, arbitrary detention and censorship from governments determined to silence critical reporting about their response to COVID-19.
Often such attempts have been carried out under the guise of tackling so-called ‘fake news’ on the virus.
Even before the pandemic, Turkey was the number one jailer of journalists in the world, with about 165 journalists currently behind bars. The government’s crackdown on the media has continued, with journalists being jailed on charges of ‘causing people to panic and publishing reports on coronavirus outside the knowledge of authorities’.
Thousands of social media accounts have also been placed under surveillance for comments about COVID-19, with citizens being detained for ‘unfounded and provocative’ posts that cause worry among the public, incite them to fear, panic and target persons and institutions’.
People expect to be able to question their government’s handling of the crisis and hold it to account over the decisions made. But governments are resisting this. In Zimbabwe, investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was detained and charged for his critical reporting on the government’s COVID-19 procurement.
The need for this was clear when Zimbabwe’s health minister was dismissed and arrested for alleged corruption in medical procurement. But while Chin’ono has been released on bail, the persecution against him continues, despite calls from local and international media watchdog bodies for all charges to be dropped.
Despite these restrictions, people have continued to mobilise and fight for their rights. The pandemic pushed activists to come up with new and innovative forms of protests. Health workers across the world staged socially distanced protests to highlight the challenges within the medical system which have been further exposed by the pandemic; around the world, people found innovative ways to get their voices across.
In Palestine, feminist organisations organised balcony protests against the surge of gender-based violence during the pandemic. Videos show people standing on their balconies, banging pots and pans and hanging banners to show solidarity.
In Singapore in April, young climate activists from the Fridays for Future global school strike movement held solo protests in order to sidestep the country’s restrictive laws on peaceful assembly.
In June in Brazil, human rights groups organised peaceful interventions to denounce the scale of the COVID-19 crisis; protesters in the capital Brasilia put up 1,000 crosses to pay tribute to COVID-19 victims on the lawn in front of key government buildings, calling out President Jair Bolsonaro for his denials of the pandemic’s gravity.
Protests against racial injustice have been staged in all corners of the globe, following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020. Floyd’s death sparked massive protests against police brutality in the USA, under the banner of Black Lives Matter.
As the movement expanded, people from different continents, in countries as diverse as Senegal, Sri Lanka and Sweden, chanted “No Justice, No Peace”, and held placards reading “racism is a virus” to show they had no choice but to protest amid a global pandemic.
But in some countries these protests were dispersed by police using excessive force, with the reasoning that protests would lead to a further spread of COVID-19.
CIVICUS continues to document civic space restrictions, and while many governments are taking advantage of the crisis to suppress criticism, civil society continues to resist, to fight back, and to make their voices heard.
As part of this, journalists are playing a vital role in fighting censorship and sharing information about the pandemic.
What is very clear is that civil society has and will continue to play a vital role in addressing the urgent needs of the people during this crisis. Without a healthy civic space and an enabling environment for activists, civil society and journalists, we will not be able to effectively tackle the spread of the virus and the prospect for rebuilding a more equal and just society will be limited.
This is why people will continue to organise, mobilise and protest.
Claudia Ituarte-Lima, Stockholm University, Sweden and University of British Columbia, Canada
Claudia Ituarte-Lima is researcher on international environmental law at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and affiliated senior researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia. She holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge.
On March 2020, over 330 students, women champions, government officials, NGO members and community members from around Kampot and Kep gathered in an effort to plant 3,000 mangroves and conserve Cambodia’s coastline. The local activity took place as part of a larger mangrove planting and marine exhibition under Action Aid’s 100,000 Mangroves campaign, supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the project ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’. The campaign aims to plan 100,000 mangroves in eight community fisheries by May 2020, and raise awareness of the importance of marine ecosystems. Credit: ManuthButh/UNDP Cambodia
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, Mar 24 2020 (IPS) – We are living in a critical time. As we face existential environmental challenges from climate crises to the mass extinction of species, it is difficult sometimes to see solutions and new ideas. This is why we all need to celebrate and give visibility to creative and courageous efforts of people and organizations striving towards a healthy planet for all.
I write today about the key role played by National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Global South in our collective fight against climate change. The time has come to empower NHRIs.
Their unique position mandated by law yet independent from the government can make an urgent needed bridge between legal and policy advances, and ground-up efforts such as youth and women movements, thereby contributing to the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.
I have recently had the chance of learning real-world success stories by brave NHRIs working in some of the most challenging contexts. While being a member of the facilitators’ team of a series of webinars* for technical staff and decision-makers working in NHRIs and prior face-to-face interaction with them, it became crystal clear that strengthening the skills and capacities of NHRIs can contribute positive outcomes for both human rights and the environment.
In Mongolia, for instance, the NHRI with the support of civil society organizations and environmental researchers has recently developed a draft law for safeguarding the rights of environmental defenders.
The NHRIs have also intervened in a variety of sectoral issues from pesticides and agriculture in Costa Rica, to mining in South Africa and the connections between coal mining and transportation in Mongolia. The Morocco NHRI has prompted other African NHRIs and civil society organizations to actively participate in international climate negotiations.
Business and human rights was a key issue raised by our NHRIs colleagues.
Nazia, 38, proudly shows off her home-grown tomatoes in Nadirabad village, Pakistan. She participated in kitchen gardening training offered under the joint UNDP-EU Refugee Affected and Host Areas (RAHA) Programme in Pakistan. Credit: UNDP Pakistan
The significant legal, institutional and financial obstacles that national duty bearers face to investigate transnational corporations and their responsibilities concerning their impacts to a safe climate has not proved insurmountable for NHRIs.
The Philippine’s NHRI has a mandate to promote human rights which, creatively interpreted, allowed it to investigate the climate change and human rights nexus beyond its national borders.
The systemic nature of climate change justified a national inquiry rather than a field visit. Because climate change is an existential issue not only to Filipino people but globally, the Philippines national inquiry on climate change turned into an inquiry with strong global dimensions.
It included public hearings in the Philippines, New York and London, virtual hearings and expert advice from the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, academics from different parts of the world and the Asia-Pacific regional network of NHRIs.
A major comparative advantage presented by the NHRIs is their unique position in working hand in hand with right holders in addressing environmental – human rights gaps facing the most vulnerable populations.
Costa Rica NHRI has found, for instance, that women, girls, men and boys and elder living in coastal areas become especially vulnerable to climate change because their access to clean drinking water and fish become scarce.
The South African NHRI together with food sovereignty civil society organizations has developed a draft climate charter, to be presented to the parliament, with a more holistic approach to the current climate policy.
In recent years, the awareness of the linkages between human rights and climate change has greatly increased. The legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment in more than 150 countries, together with judicial decisions, and academic studies on the safe climate dimension of this right has grown rapidly. NHRIs can be instrumental in translating them into results and action, including under difficult circumstances.
Their role in advising duty bearers, working together with right-holders helps to understand and act upon systemic environmental challenges. Their synergies with environmental human rights defenders can also contribute to more effective investigation and advocacy, not least in the context of informal and unregulated business activities where it is especially difficult to collect data and hold businesses accountable.
Time has come for the international community to do more to support NHRIs in the Global South, a key player often overlooked in climate and biodiversity talks, debates and funding. Due to the intrinsic connections between human rights and environment, the NHRIs need to be further supported to perform their innovative roles in safeguarding life-support systems at various jurisdictional scales, including advocating for the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment by the United Nations.
* The series was organized by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), UNDP, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and UN Environment. A final report with key messages from the webinar series is available on the UNDP website.