By Johannes Butscher

To better understand the responses and the needs that have arisen due to the COVID-19 crisis around the world, GCAP conducted a survey in April of the GCAP National Coalitions, of Civil Society Organisations and Constituency Groups. A total of 25 answers were received from 19 countries and two Constituency Groups: the Social Justice Task Force and the Women’s and Feminist Constituency Group.

This article is not an exhaustive analysis, but an attempt to describe patterns and trends from a “snapshot” taken via the survey and from a virtual meeting on the same topic with 36 participants, representing 26 countries and two constituency groups, which took place on 6 April 2020.

How have governments responded?

The first set of questions focused on governments’ responses – including physical lockdowns, fiscal packages, as well as measures to protect the most vulnerable. The survey specifically requested details of measures for vulnerable and marginalized groups, such as the homeless, older persons, people needing assistance, day laborers & migration workers, communities affected by discrimination based on work or descent (DWD), refugees, as well as protections against domestic and gender-based violence.

The survey found that lockdowns, mandatory physical distancing, curfews, travel bans, and mandatory face masks, restrictions on freedom to assembly/protest were some common measures governments implemented. However, the severity of the restrictions can be divided into three categories for those considered “non-essential workers”:

Tier 1 restrictions: Citizens are allowed to go to work, physical activity outside the home is permitted (alone or only with co-habitants), buying groceries and medical journeys and other “essential” activities are permitted.

Tier 2 restrictions: Citizens are not allowed to go to work but obliged to do “home office”. Sports outside (alone or with co-habitants) are permitted. All “essential” trips for food shopping, going to the doctor, etc. are permitted.

Tier 3 restrictions: Only food shopping, medical journeys and “essential” journeys are permitted. There are curfews, mostly at night, and citizens are often only permitted to go outside to perform their grocery shopping or other “urgent” activities according to a national or local system which has established shopping days or hours (according to gender, age, document number or similar – although this system had been announced but had not been implemented yet when the respondent completed the survey).

Many countries of the Global South, often despite having few confirmed cases, adopted measures as strict as the most affected countries in Europe.

Support (monetary or material) had been announced for the homeless, wage labourers and migrant workers, the self-employed, older persons and other groups in most countries as well as support for specific industries (e.g. garment industry in Bangladesh). However, the main concern for respondents was access to such support. The ability of vulnerable groups to apply for the support and comply with the often strict conditions, as well as the bureaucracy involved and the concern that governments will not reach the most vulnerable such as those who are undocumented.

Other trends or observations include mass migration from cities to villages, especially migrant workers who lost their job in cities. The availability of private aid/support by individuals or companies is a reality in most countries, however, the complete lack of logistical coordination often means that materials do not reach where they are most needed. Other countries with many informal workers describe huge difficulties, such as in Zambia: “There is nothing so far that has been put in place to cushion the impact of the COVID19 on the vulnerable groups.(..) 70% of the population in the informal sector [have no income now]”.

In some countries, minorities/specific groups (Asians, but also other minorities) have been blamed for the spread of the virus and have experienced discrimination and harassment with limited government intervention. GCAP has published a statement condemning those attacks.

Acute civil society response:

Section two of the survey asked about the current priorities and their implementation. Which actions have been taken? Have policy demands been formulated? Have manuals/guides on how to deal with the virus have been published?

Statements putting the most vulnerable first, ensuring that no one is left behind was the most common response, followed by monitoring and/or support of government activities to ensure that the most vulnerable are reached. Utilizing existing national networks to exchange, problem solve and share best practice was identified as a key action that had been ongoing to combat COVID-19.

The distribution of protective face masks, disinfectant, and washing & cleaning materials were listed as an ongoing effort by some to tackle the lack of materials to contain the spread of the virus. Apart from the distribution, some civil society networks also produced some materials (such as face masks) themselves.

Other actions included information sharing and producing information materials for specific groups (e.g. children and information in braille) about different aspects related to the corona crisis. Combating fake news and misinformation was also listed as an ongoing effort of this crisis that many national coalitions are confronted with.

Many GCAP National Coalitions have issued political initiatives and policy demands as statements which can be found here. Many also noted the incorporation and significance of the work on the Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals, as well as identifying a new impulse of action which could result from this crisis. For example, GCAP Italy specifically mentioned their work via the C20 on universal health care systems, the empowerment of vulnerable people and the reform of debt and of the financial architecture

Plans and ideas for future work:

The last section aimed to gather ideas, plans and priorities for future actions and priorities for civil society – from policy priorities (at regional and global levels) to solidarity actions and symbols.

Apart from national level statements, a regional approach was strongly suggested by many. Networks should serve to unite, compose and share accounts and reports of the most vulnerable on a regional as well as global level.

Another clear message was the formulation of concrete demands for immediate action such as medical testing kits, protective gear considering the realities, responsibilities and possibilities of countries in the Global North and Global South – especially considering the financial constraints of countries of the Global South.

It was clear that there is a need and widespread support for a solidarity action and/or symbol.

As a global political demand: challenging the present global political and economic priorities was identified and the need to issue joint messages and advocate for additional resources for the work of national coalitions. On the global level, priority should be given to ensure that no one is left behind & relief packages are delivered.

The importance of civil society as a complementary force to the government was stressed, with often better access to the most vulnerable communities. Monitoring government actions was also identified as a priority for many.