by Tina Renier, Policy Officer, Inter-Council Network
“COVID-19 is a wake-up call to governments, civil society organizations, business leaders, community-based groups and other key stakeholders to learn from the lessons of the pandemic”- Excerpt from the UN Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2020
Globally, the novel-coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is an unparalleled crisis that has subverted successes in human and economic development indicators. The erosion of quality of life and livelihoods are evident in the 2020 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development statistics which shows that there is a projected increase of 40-60 million people living in extreme, multi-dimensional povertyi. There is a severe shortfall in access to quality health care, education, and liveable incomes. Majority of marginalized communities in developing countries have limited or no social safety net. This is due to systemic disparities in wealth and resources. These human development challenges are compounded by an economic recession. The world economy is expected to contract by 5.2% in the latter half of 2020, according to World Bank projectionsii.
In addition, the pandemic has not only put a strain on public health systems, food chains, and local economies, but it has disrupted development programs, humanitarian assistance and public engagement initiatives in Canada’s international co-operation sector. While face-to-face public initiatives are ideally preferred and they allow for a unique one-on-one experience, traditional public engagement strategies have not worked effectively to include groups that are often excluded from public engagement. These groups continue to experience the negative ramifications of existing power inequities. The predicament for these groups has been worsened by the crisis-related impacts. These groups include: women and girls, LGBTQIA people, two-spirit people, racialized populations such as peoples of African descent, Indigenous peoples, people living with disabilities, youth, elderly people, people living in rural areas, and immigrants.
COVID-19 is both a threat and a unique door of opportunity for Canada’s non-profit organizations in the international co-operation sector. The transition from face-to face to online programming will allow organizations to reframe the meaning and ways of doing public engagement effectively and inclusively. As discussed in the Inter Council Network’s recent webinar, ‘Changing Context for Public Engagement and Global Citizenship Education,’ innovation is central to reframing public engagement. Innovation in public engagement is simply not limited to telling staff members, colleagues, and partners in our sector how to use Zoom, Skype, and adaptive technologies to facilitate the demand for new, online programs and activities. We believe that the public should be actively involved in assessing the implications that COVID-19 has on the progress of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) monitoring, gender equality and the action areas of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).
Our responsibility, as a coalition committed to global social justice, is to help the public to understand that we cannot return to a pre-COVID-19 modus operandi. Returning to normal will not challenge the institutions that are not working in our best interests. We are encouraged to actively listen to the various grassroot perspectives, consistently mobilize groups through our networks and facilitate awareness raising through knowledge sharing and peer learning. Our recent webinar has shown the importance of addressing power and privilege in national conversations by centring the voices of groups that often go unheard. Our vibrant speakers examined a variety of issues that have been put on full display by the pandemic. The themes range from inter-locking systems of oppression for different groups of women and girls, anti-black racism and systemic violence against black communities, tokenism in youth development, the socio-economic and political vulnerabilities of LGBTQIA people in the Global South and the constant struggle for Indigenous sovereignty in a settler-colonial society such as Canada. The presenters also proposed practical recommendations for introspection and how we can move forward with incorporating these ideas into tangible actions. These recommendations included: strengthening gender-based analysis and an intersectionality approach to evaluate the long-term, multi-dimensional effects of COVID-19 on women and girls and re-building black, safe spaces. This will be relevant to meet the specific needs of peoples of African descent. Among other great suggestions were increasing youth leadership in development initiatives through creative strategies, emphasizing the importance of Southern expertise in international development and learning more about Indigenous, local knowledge to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. Reframing public engagement will help us to re-envision what our society should like after COVID-19. Intersectional feminist, youth- led, Southern and Indigenous approaches in public engagement can create an equitable, COVID-19 recovery process for Canada and the world.
i) United Nations Development Programme. (17 May, 2020). COVID-19 and Human Development: Assessing the Crisis and Envisioning Recovery. New York: USA. Retrieved from http://hdr.undp.org/en/hdp-covid
ii) World Bank. (8 June, 2020). The Global Economic Outlook During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Changed World. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2020/06/08/the-global-economic-outlook-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-a-changed-world