Every crisis shakes our foundations, aggravating existing inequalities, revealing ingrained discrimination. Like previous global economic crises, the COVID-19 pandemic is stateless and devastating. The only effective response will have to be global too – consistent, united and principled. In every crisis lies the opportunity to build back better – and this is what we should all aim for.
Equality matters – now more than ever. This pandemic has laid bare the devastating impact of inequalities – and it is aggravating them. We need to respond with immediate, concerted and decisive actions to end the many forms of discrimination that expose people to harm. Medically, financially and morally, we cannot afford to neglect those who are the most affected by COVID-19 – often those who are poorest, and not always visible or heard. A society striving for equality is ultimately judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable inhabitants.
COVID-19 makes it starkly evident that respect for human rights saves lives. If many pre-existing medical conditions constitute comorbidities for serious progression of the virus, underlying social and economic harms are comorbidities for contagion as well. Ending discrimination, upholding equal access to healthcare, the right to adequate housing, the right to clean water and sanitation, and essential social protections – to take just a few examples – will be fundamental to overcoming the pandemic.
Solidarity must prevail in our response to the pandemic. Many people around the world have demonstrated mutual concern during this crisis. While others have reacted by targeting already vulnerable groups for physical and verbal attack. This not only harms people – it also harms the effort to combat the contagion and the economic harm being done by the virus.
The United Nations and the European Union will continue to work in tandem to develop responses to the coronavirus crisis that are grounded in equality, while building on successful ongoing successful cooperation such as the Spotlight Initiative which represent an unprecedented global effort to invest in gender equality.
This is what motivated 138 UN Member States and Observers to join forces in their statement for a Disability-inclusive response to COVID-19 to the UN Secretary General. The United Nations and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities, who have been disproportionally impacted by the crisis, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Every country should be doing the same, ensuring that current measures and recovery plans emphasise the needs of people held back by discrimination.
This is what the European Commission did with its proposals for a Recovery Plan. The emergency Next Generation EU instrument is reinforcing the EU budget by an additional €750 billion, ensuring that equality is at the heart of the recovery. For instance, the Recovery Plan will increase crisis preparedness and crisis management, by giving a stronger role to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to monitor the pandemic and provide appropriate guidelines for all citizens, especially vulnerable people like people with disabilities and older people. The objective is to tackle the challenges posed by coronavirus pandemic and to ensure that the recovery will be socially fair and inclusive.
All of us draw profound benefits from the diversity of our societies’ peoples, cultures, and traditions. COVID-19 is a multi-dimensional challenge – and we will only succeed against it together, with all of the assets and talent at our disposal, leaving no-one behind.
About the authors:
- Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality