As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, civil society organizations responded quickly and effectively by providing frontline assistance and defending the rights of people around the world. A report released today by the global civil society CIVICUS, ‘Solidarity in the time of COVID-19‘, emphasizes the irreplaceable role of activists, NGOs and grassroots organizations during the pandemic and calls on states to work with civil society to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and create a better post-pandemic world.
Based on interviews with civil society activists and leaders, CIVICUS’s new report sets out the ways in which civil society has responded to the crisis. Civil society took over the crucial role in providing essential services when there were gaps in health care provision and psychological support; civil society organizations (CSOs) provided food, personal protective equipment (PPT) and essential sanitary items, which often filled the gap when states did not respond.
Civil society also intervened when official communication channels failed to provide people with accurate information on how to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. By using creative methods such as street art and working in different languages, CSOs were able to disseminate important information to different communities.
Civil society often reacted when others did not act and worked to fill the gaps left by states and businesses. “Country after country, a variety of civil society groups have scrambled to meet the needs of communities most affected by the crisis,” said Mandeep Tiwana, chief executive of CIVICUS.
‘In the light of these challenges, civil society has adopted a do-it-yourself attitude and a positive response characterized by flexibility, creativity and innovation. Even social organizations that normally advocate for real preference are quickly focused on providing essential supplies and services, including food, health care, information, and cash support, to help sustain communities. At the same time, their role in combating corruption and overseeing the use of public resources has remained crucial, ‘Tiwana continued.
Civil society has endangered much of its response to aid, excluding groups adversely affected by government blockades and policies to curb the spread of COVID-19. Locked indoors, women are at greater risk of gender-based violence, while LGBTQI + people, migrants and other minority groups are smeared as sources of infection. Civil society has taken up the challenge, advocating for policies to protect excluded groups and create remote services to help vulnerable communities.
In Mexico, for example, the National Network of Shelters has expanded the staff of its 24-hour helpline and provided extra assistance through social media. In Lebanon, the Resource Center for Gender Equality has secretly embedded a helpline number in online videos to reach more women at risk from domestic violence.
When states cooperated with civil society, or when governments created an enabling environment for the work of CSOs, the response to the spread of COVID-19 was much more effective. It’s in Somalia, where Action against hunger successfully collaborated with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness about COVID-19, using social media and other communication channels to reach vulnerable and excluded groups. Social Good Brazil, a Brazilian human rights group focusing on technology, has bolstered statistical evidence on COVID-19 by connecting data scientists with public officials.
Lessons need to be learned from how governments managed the first wave of COVID-19. As many countries prepare for the second wave, one thing is clear: in all future responses, states must recognize the value of civil society, and work to make it possible and cooperate with it. Doing so will lead to more effective, respectful responses, ”Tiwana said.
‘The hard lessons must be learned from the mistakes made during the COVID-19 pandemic to equip the world for the next series of challenges. We can not go back as usual, “he continued.
Civil society organizations have provided roadmaps for creating fairer, more equitable and more sustainable societies, including calls for accountability through respect for democratic values and institutions, responsibility for providing high quality basic services such as health, resource redistribution and progressive taxation. to provide social protection for the vulnerable and improved focus on environmental protection rather than militarism. Civil society also called for international cooperation and respect for people-centered multilateralism.
People-led, reciprocal responses were the most important during the pandemic. Community action arose around the world when neighbors, schools, and individuals worked together to meet the needs of vulnerable people, and to share those most at risk of becoming infected through community resources. Many protests went online and people found alternative, creative ways to make their voice heard that take physical distance. CSOs have also taken on the role of rights defenders in countries where authoritarian leaders use COVID-19 as a pretext to restrict civil liberties.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society showed resilience, creativity and adaptability; CSOs have persisted in helping people make their voices heard at a time when many governments have suppressed disunity and deprived citizens of their fundamental freedoms.