This year we will celebrate the UN International Day of Multilateralism for Peace for the second time and it could not be more relevant bearing in mind the world’s current struggle against Covid19. The aim of the day is to assist in the preservation of the values of multilateralism and international cooperation, which underpin the UN Charter and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These values are fundamental to promote the three pillars of the UN – peace and security, development and human rights.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), described Covid19 as “Public Enemy Number One” and he urged the need for global solidarity. He also said “The Covid19 pandemic should not be politicized as unity is the ‘only option’ to defeat the disease”. He recalled how the United States and the former Soviet Union had worked together in the Cold War era to eradicate smallpox and he stressed the need for the United States and China and the rest of the world to come together to fight the Covid19 pandemic. He warned that without a common united front, even more people would die.
In the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) monthly briefing for April 2020, ‘Covid19: Disrupting Lives, Economies and Societies’, we are advised that “Urgent and bold policy measures are needed, not only to contain the pandemic and save lives, but also to protect the most vulnerable in our societies from economic ruin and to sustain economic growth and financial sustainability”.
At this time of international crisis, the representation of Soroptimist International at the United Nations is more vital than ever. Our sixteen Representatives across the seven United Nations Centres worldwide are working to ensure that the issues affecting women and girls as a result of Covid19 are addressed and included in international policy decisions.
This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. It was intended to be ground-breaking for gender equality. The limited progress made to date is at risk of being rolled back due to the spread of Covid19. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities thus exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems. The key issues highlighted thus far during the pandemic are:
- Inequality – women comprise the majority of health and social care workers who are more exposed to infection.
- Rise in domestic abuse throughout the world as a result of social isolation with abusive husbands/partners.
- Increase in unpaid care work as a result of nurseries and schools being closed and heightened care needs of older persons.
- Compounded economic effects as women and girls are so often earning less and thus able to save less. In addition, their jobs are often in more insecure industries such as retail, hospitality and tourism.
Where the UN is providing humanitarian support, which includes some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world, it is prioritising protection services for women. The UN is also building on the Spotlight Initiative, a large-scale partnership with the European Union, to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
So, what can we as Soroptimists do to support the aims and objectives of the UN International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace whilst the vast majority of us are in ‘lock-down’?
- Maintain regular contact with our link clubs in countries most affected by the pandemic and/or conflict;
- Where funds permit, clubs can make donations to overseas projects which will improve the lives of women and girls in the poorest countries of the world e.g. Toilet Twinning, Tap Twinning, Empowering Girls in Nepal, etc;
- Donations to funds such as the UN Covid-Solidarity Fund for WHO;
- Virtual coffee mornings to raise funds for those charities we would normally support;
- Support the work of organisations striving for world peace and justice e.g. Amnesty International, International Justice Mission and Save the Children by signing petitions and lobbying where appropriate.
My focus has been the effects of Covid19 on nations of the world with regards to multilateralism and diplomacy for peace as I believe this is the most important issue facing us at the present time. I hope that by this time next year, we will be able to report on some positive outcomes from what for many of us is proving to be one of the most challenging times of our lives.
Some areas for focus during and after the pandemic are:
- advocating for introduction everywhere of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). There is evidence for and against, from different schemes and other sources, across the world, and trials in Finland, India and Canada with proposals for Scotland; this could ensure that everyone can afford the basic necessities;
- Universal free health care – without this many people cannot access help when they need it most;
- Cancel the debts of poor countries. If this pandemic causes widespread defaults there would be huge problems for the global economy. Thus, debt forgiveness or, at least, rescheduling must happen. The International Monetary Fund is beginning to address this issue;
- Climate change and, I hope, COP26 early next year.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in his opening remarks at the virtual press encounter to launch the ‘Report on the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19’, summarised the hopes that I believe we all share:
“Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face.”