On Wednesday the 30th of June at 4 p.m., Democracy Centre for transparency hosted a Webinar on the ‘impact and implications of Covid-19 on the SDG implementation in the EU and globally’. The discussion was attended by Ms. Sylvia Beales, the Director of inclusive social development consultancy BealesGelberConsult, published author on global ageing, disability, gender and inequality with extensive expertise gained with the United Nations, international civil society and the NGO sector, MEP Udo Bullmann, Member of the European Parliament and the EU Affairs Spokesperson of the Executive Committee of the German Social Democratic Party, Dr. Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Global Affairs/Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Portland and the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Migration, Gender, and Justice (CMGJ). And finally, MEP Tomas Tobé, also a Member of the European Parliament and the Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development (DEVE).
In the light of the meeting of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) this year in July, the webinar tackled different aspects of European and global development and the impact of Covid-19 with a focus on the worsening of already existing inequalities in and between societies and how the pandemic affects vulnerable groups, like women, migrants, the elderly, the poor, people with disabilties etc.
Ms. Sylvia Beales took the lead in the webinar giving a very informative and extensive presentation based on her findings in the report that she put together with the European Economic bureau (EEB) and SDG watch Europe last year. She started off by quoting very distinguished people like the UN General Secretary saying the pandemic is a disease of poverty, injustice, and inequities and that we need a global response and emphasized that a lot of groups don’t get access to vaccines so that it is very partial between countries, regions and populations. She continues by stating that the impact of Covid-19 is like an X-ray that exposes all the inequalities that we are facing in the social, economic and environmental field, which are of course the pillars of the SDG framework. We need to ask ourselves who and where people are likely being disproportionally affected, not only by the disease, but also the restrictions both immediate and long-term on our wellbeing, our rights, our health.
Who is being vaccinated, where and at what cost? What is the long term health impact? What is happening to the economic and food insecurity? What about Employment and social protection? These are the questions we need to pose ourselves.
The left behind populations that are likely to be more affected by the on-going pandemic are; older women and men (who are getting older and older, therefore occupy a massive proportion of our societies and are rarely or often not at all featured in policy), persons with disabilities, refugees, migrants and displaced persons, ethnic minorities, widows (do not feature much in policy but Covid-19 is has been a real windowmaker so we need response here), informal workers (no job security, social security), youth (with their education affected and their jobs disappearing) and LGBTQI (who are often reluctant to ask for help).
She continued by saying that for these groups run a higher risk to witness an increase of violence, poverty, exclusions, scapegoating, health, income, and housing inequalities.
After this, she zoomed in on a particular group that her consultancy did research on and shared their interesting findings of things they are suffering from the most: ‘woman and girls with disabilities in Africa’.
She continues by discussing the exposed challenges by Covid in the EU and globally by discussing the SDGS under review at the High- level political summit; rising income poverty and social protection gaps (SDG1), Unmet health needs and vaccine inequality (SDG 3), Long term unemployment for youth and in work poverty (SDG 8), urban-rural gap in exclusion and poverty, rising income disparity in and between countries (SDG 10), more waste generation and dumping (SDG 12), climate related stress (SDG 13), increasing violence, civil liberties at risk (SDG 16), financing for developing countries, data gaps: partnerships for change (SDG 17). She concludes by saying that Covid-19 is not an excuse for inaction but rather the reason to accelerate efforts with ambition, urgency and scale and, by giving illustrations of human rights that really need to be brought to attention and taken care off. Taxation, obligation, solidarity, and inclusive data is needed to ensure these rights to all. We know what to do about it, so global citizenship is in our grasp with political will and the right policies!
MEP Udo Bullmann continued the discussion by zooming in on SDG 10, reduced inequalities in and between societies. Why did he propose to talk about 10? For him the SDG agenda is very holistic concept for the future of humankind, and he was convinced that this idea of transformation needs a specific governance of transformation that cannot be a top down, only a bottom up and inclusive exercise mobilizing all actors needed, all people with their capacities to improve our living world. So, this is a very democratic exercise. He continues by saying that the fight against inequality is a central strategic element of leverage or a trigger point for the achievement of other goals. During the last decade since the 1980s we lost the fight against inequalities and Covid-19 is adding to this situation. There is already some data available, and we know there will be more inequalities, and backlashes both in the global North as the South. The North will be recovering quickly enough in their societies whereas societies in developing countries will very likely know a backlash that, according to data will last around 10 years. He continued by pointing out the major points to work on, which ais: Vaccinations for all, which is the key issue and for this we need to close the gap between the haves and the have nots. This will be a huge humanitarian task where people have to realize that it is an issue of their self-interest because otherwise, they will come under the pressure of even more worrying mutations. He continued to state that we also need sufficient resources to implement the 2030 agenda in the South and middle income countries. We cannot look at Covid-19 as a break or excuse, but instead we need to use all our energy and resources to enhance our path for a transformative situation and economy. Beyond the investment in vaccines and reduction of debt, the EU has launched a new framework of 80 billion dollars for the next 7 years. We must assess precisely what we will do with that money. What portion is going to the poorest? who is really benefiting? There is a huge arena of possible activities and that must be the focus in the European parliament.
Next up Dr. Lara zuzan Golsorkhi gave us a very informative presentation presenting her findings from her ethnographic research on the impacts of COVID-19 on refugee women’s livelihoods in Portland, Oregon (USA). She situated these findings in broader global dynamics regarding migration-gender relations and presented her NGO’s (CMGJ) Spotlight Project ‘Migration, Gender, and COVID-19’). Her contribution was a further X ray into one of the marginalized groups that has been left behind. Many migrant communities were particularly hard hit by Covid while at the same time being left out of the national response measures. She told us that her findings really point to the importance of social protection of all, irrespective of migration status and gender identity/sexuality. Migrant women in Portland are facing restricted access of resources and services. They are often ineligible for these health and employment services based on for example their migrant status, also gender disparity has been heighted during the pandemic. The women also have to navigate childcare. However, family networks for care often do not exist due to family separation, health care providers are out of financial reach or are just not available due to closure due to lockdown restrictions. The second problem the women are facing, is the lack of information about resources due to limited language knowledge, limited digital skills and limited access to digital space, which is of course linked to the previous dynamic. Due to the changing policy, migrant women found it difficult to find updated and trustworthy information. However, there have been efforts for translations, English classes and to mitigate misinformation across migrant communities. The challenges to continue learning seem extra difficult for migrant women (gender dimension) as well as refugee women as their child care obligations often prevented them from participating in classes. Usually, a lot of the classes are at churches or public spaces where childcare is provided. This will have an effect on the women’s language skills and health literacy and in the long run have event effect on their health. The third issue for migrant women in Portland pointed out by Dr. Golesorkhi, is the fear due to ever changing policy. One particular change is important; a cross cut with migration policy, under Trump administration, there were changes made when it comes to what is called ‘the liability of public charge’. Accessing social protection in order to sustain one’s livelihood now become a criterion to be excluded from getting permanent residency. This led to a lot of fear of migrants to receive social protection or applying for it because it might affect their residence status.
When focusing on the global outlooks, Dr. Golesorkhi stated that a strategy would involve inclusion of refugees (and migrants more broadly) in national Covid-19 response measures, development of universal social protection structures and implementation of gendered and intersectional approaches in migration research and politics.
MEP Tomas Tobé continued the debate by talking about youth in developing countries, and the risk of it being a lost generation due to the hard impact of the pandemic, which is linked to job opportunities, growth, and equality. He started off by saying that the pandemic definitely has political, environmental and social implications but that we cannot fully grasp the effect yet. What we do know is that in developing countries this happens on top of the already existing tensions and precarious challenges. This will place an extra burden of their recovery and resilience for other future pandemics. He continued by expressing that The EU needs to ensure that the vaccines are provided to middle and lower income countries. It is in everyone’s interest that we are all evenly vaccinated. It is important that the EU Adopted a new African strategy emphasizes the EU African relations and prosperity of both continents. Africa is the youngest population which is expected to double within the next 30 years. Before the pandemic, the quality of life, literacy and employment rate of the youth has been (though in small steps) improving. However, the positive trend has been abruptly stopped and replaced by devastating effect of education and training young people worldwide, which sets our future generation and progress back a lot. The loss of access to education has been profound. There were school closures country wide. Even worse for children and youth in lower income countries, who generally lack access to internet and distant learning. School closures also pushed a lot of young girls into marriage as an education is no longer an option (10 milion extra). The school closure increased child labor as families are financially worse off and require an additional income.
To not have a lost generation, the EU must act in a quick way and it has a responsibility of to insure job opportunities in Africa. The demand for innovative digital ideas and solutions are higher than ever in Africa due to the pandemic. By targeting investment, the EU can help to accelerate the digital economy in Africa which will provide work opportunities, tax revenues and further investment so the governments can ensure functioning welfare, education, and health. An equal and inclusive access to internet across the continent needs to be prioritized so it will give children new opportunities and ensure that future school closures do not restricts access to digital learning. A new global instrument and the team Europe effort are two good examples where we try to put more of the result as a focus, but we still need to do more. He concluded by reaffirming the importance of SDG 4 (inclusive and qualitative education). Through education we can ensure that Africa takes advantage of the opportunities of the digital economy which will create job opportunities and with that economic growth. This growth is necessary to invest in the sustainable development of their nations. The EU will have a constructive discussion on how they can reverse the negative impact of Covid-19 and, if possible, have future progress.
The panelists then concluded the discussion with a very short Q&A round on European and global outlooks and various ways to act.