Policy and Advocacy

Conflict in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus requires a collaborative, intensive, and comprehensive response to save lives and repair economies. This work cannot happen while conflict ravages some of the same populations most vulnerable to the virus. Wars weaken the foundations needed to combat COVID-19 – access to food and healthcare and the ability to shelter and engage in social  distancing. Conflict increases food insecurity, destroys healthcare systems, increases displacement, and denies people their livelihoods. Additionally, the two billion people living in conflict affected states are the ones most likely to be devastated by the global economic recession.

In terms of food insecurity, the World Food Programme warns that coronavirus could trigger acute food shortages for double the amount of people in 2020 and famines of biblical proportions. As it stood before the pandemic, 135 million people are suffering from acute food insecurity. Many of the same people experiencing food insecurity, live in countries experiencing violent conflict who cannot allocate the resources to a large-scale coronavirus response as well as combat food insecurity.

One of the most crucial protection measures against COVID 19 has been lockdowns where people are confined to their homes to limit the spread of the virus. These measures are only effective if people have homes to shelter in. Over 70 million people across the worlds have fled their homes due to conflict and in last year alone there were 33.4 million new internal displacements. Many of these internally displaced people live in camps which can house hundreds of thousands of people. These camps are often without access to necessary hygiene facilities and are hugely under-resourced. The people sheltering in these camps are at high risk of contracting the virus because of the overcrowded and unhygienic reality of the sites.

Men and women experience conflict differently and are also differently impacted by coronavirus. Though men seem to contract the disease at higher numbers, women are at the forefront of the pandemic. Women represent the majority of frontline medical workers and are often most likely to go without within a family unit. Additionally, the pandemic and state regulations to contain its spread, have led to a horrifying global surge in domestic violence. Gender Based violence often increases in situations of displacement or during a violent conflict. The Coronavirus adds an additional threat to women and girls, particularly those living in conflict affected areas.

An additional concern is that coronavirus has impeded humanitarian access. Measures to prevent the spread of the virus have made delivering life-saving aid in conflict-affected countries much more difficult – with movement restrictions limiting supply chains and resulting in the reduction or suspension of humanitarian activities.

Recognising the devastating impacts of COVID-19 and that our ability to fight the virus is undermined by conflict and war, the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire. While this is a welcome initiative, this life saving support must move beyond rhetoric and be put into practice across the world. The United Nations Security Council has failed to respond and the resolution has been met with deadlock, with the United States recently refusing to vote on the resolution.

A meaningful ceasefire must be built based on local solutions and give communities, women’s groups, and youth the power and representation to make it a reality. In the face of the inaction of the UNSC and the growing crisis in conflict and corona affect places, Ireland must act now.

Ireland must:

  • Endorse and ensure the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire
  • Pressure other Member States to suspend arms sale and transfers to conflict parties
  • Ensure that humanitarian work continues in the face of the pandemic
  • Open humanitarian and commercial access to ensure humanitarian staff as well as peacebuilders can reach crisis-affected areas
  • Respect IHL and International Human Rights Law and ensure that emergency measures are not exploited to suppress human rights
  • Maintain the civilian character of the coronavirus response and confirm that there are strong safeguards to prevent abuses against civilians
  • Ensure that the response to the virus is not exploited to deny assistance or discriminate on asylum

We need our leaders to take bold actions, which until recently were thought impossible. We demand that political leaders deliver on the global ceasefire, in solidarity with people across the world and for a more peaceful future for us all.

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COVID-19 and Climate

Coronavirus is a real and pressing crisis. One which required and will continue to require a collaborative, intensive, and invested response from ourselves and our governments. In the face of this, we must remember that the climate crisis is similarly urgent and requires the same showing of solidarity seen throughout this pandemic. The solidarity seen across the globe as people refrained from seeing loved ones, stayed indoors, and sheltered our most vulnerable was a glimmer of light during this time of darkness. This kind solidarity, this unified change we all made in response to the pandemic, is desperately needed to combat climate change.

Unfortunately, many sectors are utilising the pandemic to renegotiate or to violate their obligations to cut emissions under the European Green Deal. For example, steel and cement corporations are lobbying the European Commission on emission allowances. Airlines are similarly using the recession caused by the virus to delay their climate targets.

In the face of this, the Green Deal is essential to provide a policy framework for a just recovery. A framework that will help us build back from the pandemic and the recession. We must ensure that the recovery of the economy is not prioritised above our ecosystem. The foundation of this recovery should be to combat climate change and further the new deal while still recognising the reality we are in. The Institution of European Environmental Policy recommends that we further Green Deal reforms while ensuring that a just transition is in place for those effected by these reforms and the pandemic. They recognise the importance of reaching those furthest behind first and by future proofing investments made during this time to ensure that our children will not pay the price.

On a government level, we must ensure that funding allocated to combating climate change in poor countries is not reallocated to fighting the coronavirus domestically. Jan Kowalzig, the senior climate policy advisor for Oxfam International said:

“Tackling the health crisis must be the priority, but governments cannot afford to ignore the escalating climate crisis wreaking havoc across the globe. Poor countries, struggling to cope with the devastating impacts of climate change, must now deal with the coronavirus as well. Severe drought is fueling hunger across Southern Africa and Central America, while vulnerable people from Bangladesh to Vanuatu face increasingly destructive storms. It is more important than ever that rich polluting countries deliver on their promises to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cut emissions and adapt to a changing climate. Ministers must also ensure that economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic does not supercharge the climate crisis. They must build back better – more resilient low carbon economies - that deliver a safer and more secure future for all."

In Ireland, the presumptive government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael published a draft document on a plan to recover, rebuild, and renew Ireland after the COVID-19 emergency. The document contained 10 missions ranging from healthcare to housing. It is promising that one of the missions directly addresses a New Green Deal and highlights the need for carbon reduction targets, just transition, and an increased carbon tax. It is fundamental that these are enshrined in law as soon as possible in light of the pandemic and recession. While many of the points on the draft documents are positive, we must future proof the planned investments, particularly around land development and infrastructure changes, to ensure that they are carried out through a green lens. Another point of note is that the draft document does not address Overseas Development Assistance or climate change spending internationally. As Kowlazig noted above, poorer countries need support to fight COVID-19 and combat climate change.

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Women bearing the burden in the fight against Coronavirus

The novel Coronavirus and the disease caused by it, COVID-19, has spread across the world and caused infections in nearly every country. The virus, originally proclaimed by many as the great equaliser, has in fact thrown into stark relief the inequality entrenched in our society and across the world. While it is true that anyone can fall ill to this virus, there are many subsets of our society who are more at risk, including women. This risk can be both physical and economic.

Women in society are at the medical frontlines of the COVID pandemic. In the EU alone, 76% of healthcare workers are women. Additionally, as many as 82% of all cashiers – essential workers during global pandemics - are women. While in the home, women across the world tend to be the ones in the household who care for the sick and elderly. All of these roles put them more at risk of contracting the virus. 

Alongside that, a dangerous additional physical risk from the pandemic is a spike in domestic violence against women due to lockdown and the necessary responses put in place by governments to curb the virus. The stress and uncertainty of the economic impacts of the disease along with prolonged time spent in the home has led to an increase in calls to domestic violence support lines across Europe.

While we celebrate the doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals as they fight this pandemic, it is important not to ignore a whole subset of people also serving on the frontlines – our carers. These carers, people who work with the elderly or people with disabilities, are often under protected and chronically underpaid. Care work is historically one of the most underpaid in the EU and globally, a gap between care workers and workers in other sectors of anything between 4% and 40% of hourly wages. These care roles are predominantly held by women who find themselves without adequate compensation or protective equipment needed to keep themselves, their patients, and their families safe. Some women are being forced to choose between attending work, where they are undervalued and left unprotected from the virus, or leaving their jobs and seeking other work in a restricted employment market.

The current Coronavirus crisis is more than a medical one, it is an economic crisis as well. While women are on the frontline of the crisis in the medical field, they also are more likely to be involved in part-time or temporary employment. People in these types of unstable positions are at higher risk of being laid off or fired during an economic downturn, such as the one we are experiencing now. Additionally, the more female dominated sectors like retail and tourism are some of the worst affected by the pandemic and government measures to curb its spread. A recent study warned that as more women lose jobs, the gender pay gap (which stands at 16% in the EU and nearly 14% in Ireland) will widen.

Women are not only carrying the burden of the virus in the public sphere, but also in the home. Before the lockdown measures imposed by the Irish government to curb the spread of the virus, women did double the amount of unpaid and in home care work than their male counterparts. Since the start of this crisis, women have now taken on the additional role of teacher as schools have been closed for nearly 2 months. In the EU, the unpaid care burden is particularly difficult for single parents, 85% of whom are women, who are forced to juggle paid work, unpaid care work, and now supervising the education of their children. Women in the medical sector, whose jobs are designated as essential, are struggling to meet their care responsibilities at home. The Irish Times reported that thousands of healthcare workers have been unable to fully support the fight against COVID-19 because of child care responsibilities which kept them from attending work. These examples of women’s unpaid work burden increasing during the pandemic, clearly illustrates Oxfam’s belief that unpaid or underpaid care work of women and girls is the hidden engine which runs the world, propping up our economies and societies. Globally, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work a day, the monetary value of which is at least $10 trillion or triple the size of the tech industry.

In mid-April, Fiánna Fail and Fine Gael published their 10 Key Missions for a new government. In this manifesto the two parties pledged to acknowledge the importance of carers in our society. Oxfam’s Time to Care report lays out the recommendations for how governments can support their carers and contribute to a more gender just society. This support for carers is desperately needed, particularly in times of public health crisis. Additionally, the FF/FG mission document calls for a reform in the childcare sectors. A reform desperately needed, notwithstanding of the current crisis for parents in essential and teleworking employment.

The current pandemic has highlighted how the unfair burden left to women globally in the best of times, grows only heavier in times of crisis. It is only when the most vulnerable among us are safe, can we all be safe from Coronavirus. The women at the frontlines of the fight again COVID-19 in the hospitals, care homes, supermarkets, and living rooms are some of the most vulnerable to the impact of this virus and need support.

Read Oxfam’s Time to Care report and Oxfam Ireland’s submission to the Citizens Assembly on Gender Equality for more

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Dignity not Destitution – why COVID-19 demands an economic rescue package for all

In the face of an unprecedented global crisis, we need to look to the poorest among us who will be hardest hit by the virus, both medically and economically. COVID-19 is shining a grim light on existing inequalities between rich and poor, where the richest people across the globe have access to healthcare and enough money and resources to get by, while most of humanity faces this crisis with neither – and stand to lose much more. In the words of Micah Olywangu, a taxi driver in Nairobi, “This virus will starve us before it makes us sick.”

Oxfam’s new report Dignity Not Destitution presents fresh analysis which suggests that over half the global population could be living in poverty in the aftermath of the pandemic. The report states that between 6 and 8 per cent of the global population could be forced into poverty as governments shut down entire economies to manage the spread of the virus. This could set back the fight against poverty by a decade, and as much as 30 years in some places such as Africa.

Existing inequalities dictate the economic impact of this crisis. The poorest workers in rich and poor nations are less likely to be in formal employment, enjoy labour protections such as sick pay, or be able to work from home. Globally, just one out of every five unemployed people have access to unemployment benefits. Two billion people work in the informal sector with no access to sick pay —the majority in poor countries where 90 per cent of jobs are informal compared to just 18 per cent in rich nations. Women are on the front line of the coronavirus response and are likely to be hardest hit financially. Women make up 70 per cent of health workers globally and provide 75 per cent of unpaid care, looking after children, the sick and the elderly. Women are also more likely to be employed in poorly paid precarious jobs that are most at risk.

Many wealthy nations have introduced multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus packages to support business and workers, but most developing nations lack the financial firepower to follow suit. The UN estimates that nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost.

The Irish Government has announced €10million in funding to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to the coronavirus. While we believe that Ireland’s growing support of the World Health Organisations battle against COVID-19 is a phenomenal showing of global solidarity, these are important first steps to addressing this crisis that must run parallel to an overarching Emergency Rescue Package for all.

An ‘Emergency Rescue Package for All’ would enable poor countries to provide cash grants to those who have lost their income and to bail out vulnerable small businesses. This would require governments and international institutions to take four key actions. These would include the immediate cancellation of US$1 trillion worth of developing country debt payments in 2020, the creation of at least US$1 trillion in new international reserves, known as Special Drawing Rights, to dramatically increase the funds available to countries, the increase of aid through wealthy countries meeting their ODA commitments of 0.7 per cent of GDP, and the adoption of emergency progressive taxes and a massive mobilisation of international aid.

This final step, the mobilisation of international aid would need to inject new money to combat the crisis, be used to help countries strengthen their health systems and cash grants, and serve as the foundation of a new just and effective aid system which will better prepare countries in the future.

History has shown that crises like the one we are living through, can create opportunities for growth and change. The destruction and death seen in the Second World War triggered the creation of international aid as we know it. At this defining moment for our world, we must put inequality and women’s rights at the heart of aid work. We must work to make the aid system inclusive and legitimate and move away from what rich countries are willing to “give” and look to recognised methods of redistribution from the wealthiest to the poorest. This unprecedented crisis may finally allow us to move from dispensing charity to living in a more just world.

Read Dignity not Destitution - An Economic Rescue Package for All

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Despite the progress, the campaign for equality has a long way to go

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration in which states affirmed women’s rights as human rights, while International Women’s Day 2020 strives for gender equality in politics, business and across all other areas of society. Although women have come a long way since the suffragette movement of the 1900s, the campaign for equality still has a long way to go.

In Ireland, women overwhelmingly occupy less influential positions than their male counterparts, who remain the dominant decision-makers. Women occupy just 22 percent of seats in the current Dáil, while only about 13 percent of the board members of publicly listed companies in Ireland are women. Additionally, women in the workforce are less likely to have pensions and represent the majority of part-time workers in Ireland. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, female political representation is higher, with women making up 33 per cent of the Assembly, while a staggering 82 percent of people in part-time employment are women.

In academia, women are consistently underrepresented. Since the first university was established in Ireland almost 450 years ago, we have never had a female president. Elsewhere, the European Commission has warned that the underrepresentation and access for women is threatening the goals of achieving excellence in science. On the global scale, the World Economic Forum calculated that at the current rate of progress, it will take nearly 170 years for women and men to be employed at the same rates, paid the same for equal work, and have the same levels of seniority.

At Oxfam, we are not willing to wait 170 years. Gender quotas, particularly electoral quotas, are proven to be effective in fast-tracking women’s representation and are gaining international support, illustrated by our 50:50 Elect Her campaign to encourage more Malawian women to run for parliament. In the interests of the greater good, quotas ensure power sharing where it would not otherwise occur.

In line with International Women’s Day, we believe that gender equality is essential for economies and societies to thrive and can create a healthier, wealthier and more harmonious world. After all, equality is not a women’s issue – it’s a global issue.

Read our submission to the Citizens’ Assembly here

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