COVID-19: Grassroots voices matter. Why we need an inclusive global response to the pandemic
A message from our Executive Director Marlies Stappers.
I hope this message finds you all well and in good health in these challenging times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has the world in its grip and is leading to drastic measures that are being imposed on societies everywhere in the world. Only few months ago, we considered such measures inconceivable. Totally unexpectedly, we are facing a new reality and are thus far unable to fully anticipate its consequences in the short, mid- and long-term. As the world struggles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, civil society is no exception. Civil society organisations across the globe are relentlessly seeking and implementing new modalities to maximise the impact of their work while social distancing and travel bans govern our daily life.
In these unprecedented times and lockdowns, frustration and panic could pave the way for surrendering and hopelessness. The uncertainty and anxiety that the virus is creating is felt by all of us. Now more than ever, we need to support each other and strengthen our solidarity. We should also make an effort to see the positive aspects of this situation and realise that we are not helpless. As civil society organisations, we are accustomed to working in and adapting to rocky and challenging circumstances. In collaboration and solidarity with local groups and communities we strive to seize opportunities to make the world a better place, even in the most difficult situations.
A global crisis necessitates a global response that is inclusive and tailored to the context-specific needs; especially those of the most vulnerable groups. Throughout the years, civil society has contributed to building a community around common values and social projects. A community in which all voices - especially those of the marginalised - are valued and given space to contribute to the development of meaningful approaches. Now more than ever, we need civil society to work on further strengthening such a community that works in solidarity and is connected and empowered to express agency in decision-making that leads to sustainable change - change that has the potential to benefit all and not only a handful.
For these reasons, supporting this community should be the compass in designing the way forward in dealing with the current crisis. Connecting grassroots knowledge and needs with (inter)national policymaking processes should guide the discussions about alternative approaches that respond not only to the symptoms but also to the root causes of the crisis. It has become painfully clear these past weeks that the current crisis involves major health and security challenges that require immediate action to stop the disease from spreading uncontrollably. Reacting to the symptoms is not enough. The crisis also calls for social, political and legal responses to address the deeper structural root causes of injustice and inequality so bluntly unmasked by the pandemic. This relates to our economic model, issues of social injustice and to ingrained and often violent systems of impunity and corruption. If these root causes go unchallenged, inequality and vulnerability will only exacerbate undermining broader public health priorities. Human Rights, the rule of law and social justice frameworks provide central tools for constructively thinking about how to move on after this crisis.
Amidst these circumstances, we realise how important it is for us as civil society to invest in real partnerships, trust and solidarity; not only with the groups we work with, but also with international policymakers and donors who are interested in exploring alternative ways of doing things to contribute to real change. We should push back against those voices that are already saying that we should try to go back to the same pre-COVID ‘normality’ as soon as the pandemic is over. There is an opportunity now to start doing things differently.
There is no template to follow. However, we reiterate that we can learn much from the civil society experience; particularly by looking at the bottom-up and holistic responses to complex challenges. If we do not listen to the grassroots voices and learn from their knowledge and solidarity to develop truly transformative and meaningful approaches, we would be robing humanity from its strongest and most effective cure - the ability to be inclusive and to overcome challenges together.