Role of global civil society during the ongoing pandemic
Now the world has been introduced to a “new normal” which includes confining to your homes, work from home, online classes, social distancing, etc.
This new normal is very crucial to the role of global civil society as now they can’t gather to organize, engage and advocate. Under such conditions, civil society has shifted its activities to virtual platforms.
During the pandemic this year we have seen that in many countries Aurat march was being conducted through various virtual platforms. Moreover, lack of physical presence has provided many illiberal leaders to mess with the check and balance system, promoting censorship and taking all possible measures to restrict the involvement of civil society.
But on the other hand, we have also witnessed the enhanced role of civil societies; as the pandemic has introduced each state to huge economic pressures. Even the largest economy of the U.S.A has sunk at an annual rate of 4.8% after the lockdown.
The global lockdown is affecting the local and international businesses so much that it is becoming a great challenge for every government to counter the economic pressures and to facilitate the needs of the people.
At this point, civil societies are playing an effective role by holding governments into account, promoting awareness, and acting as service providers. global civil society
During the pandemic, civil societies are facilitating in a manner to fill the gaps left by the government by providing aid to the families who don’t have any incomes in the lockdown.
For example, in the case of Pakistan, we have JDC Foundation Pakistan acting actively in Karachi by providing vulnerable families with food, money and also arranging various food drives. global civil society
Moreover, civil society is playing an important role by introducing a domestic abuse helpline as this pandemic has unfortunately resulted in an increase in domestic violence cases.
In the case of Pakistan, we see civil societies are acting in a manner to help the government in identifying those areas which should be more focused during the pandemic for example doctors, police officers, paramedics, etc. global civil societyPeople should be provided with personal protection equipment, facilitate vulnerable factions like transgenders, disabled, elderly and religious minorities who are unable to get benefitted by the Ehsas Cash program.
Because they don’t have CNIC or facing other issues, keeping a check on the rising prices of fruits, vegetable or groceries items, working on internet access to help those students who are being deprived of basic educational opportunities.
These civil societies are also acting as a bridge between the government and citizens to build effective trust and communication. In states like Pakistan and Iran, we have witnessed people ignoring the advice from the government and not strictly following the SOPs. global civil society
At this point in Pakistan, we have seen the Punjab government calling out Tik Tokers to help by making videos that greatly emphasize following SOPs. Similarly, the blogger community helped the government by promoting awareness regarding the virus on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. global civil society
They also promoted small local businesses which could be of great help in stabilizing the economy at this crucial time. Furthermore, while playing a supportive role in the pandemic, we came across the civil societies in India that have stood against BJP’s aggressive policies against Indian Muslims. global civil society
This ongoing pandemic gave Indian nationalists a reason to increase their aggression against Muslims by calling them the reason for the spread of coronavirus.
Under such circumstances when physical presence or protests were not possible, many social media outlets stood against the government policies and are supporting the Muslim community of India. global civil society
With the ongoing pandemic, another trend became very prominent in which the general public is volunteering in collecting funds through various social media platforms and are also collaborating with different local businesses to generate funds through which they are providing hospitals with ventilators and distributing masks and sanitizers among the people.
For example, in Tunisia, a Facebook group of 100,000 people is being active to fight against the virus by collecting money, medical supplies, and providing financial aid to families in need. global civil society
Similarly, in Iran, many business groups have joined hands to provide respirators and other personal protective equipment to the medical staff. global civil society
This pandemic has shifted many civil societies or more specifically NGOs to work for the common cause. Many of them are now shifting their focus to what is the need of the time: fight the COVID-19.
For example, a Kenya-based NGO “Muslims for Human rights” is now distributing masks and food among all the vulnerable factions, “I-Watch” an anti-corruption Tunisian-based NGO is now disinfecting the public spaces along with collecting masks and other necessary equipment and then distributing it to the hospitals.
In this wake of the global pandemic, there is also much fake news roaming around which is misleading the majority of people globally. The false narrative regarding the virus is everywhere, in Pakistan, we have seen people calling this virus mere propaganda of the government or a “yahoo sash”. global civil society
Civil society is playing an important role in filtering all these false narratives and news. In Senegal, a youth movement primarily focused upon transparent governance is now spreading social distancing songs.
Many polish NGOs are now focusing on puncturing the pandemic-related conspiracy theories. In hungry anyone who will spread false news will be jailed for five years. global civil society
In China, people are setting up online channels to share articles and other COVID-19 material which the government is aiming to censor.
Many Journalists in Zimbabwe has appealed in the high court that government should not criticize Journalist working on COVID-19 and they should have the freedom of work in this regard. global civil society
These civil societies are also pursuing a vital role of being a “watchdog”. At both the international and national levels, they are advocating transparency, accountability, and monitoring policies of the government.
Organizations like “Amnesty international” and ‘Rights and security international’ are looking for new measures for democratic oversight during the pandemic. global civil society
In many countries, these civic actors are also criticizing the government policies. During Ramadan in Pakistan, the ease down of lockdown was perceived very negatively by many doctors and they call out the government to rethink their policies.
In Thailand, because of the slow response to the spread of the virus the “association of physicians” blamed the public authorities. Similarly, in Egypt, the medical personals blamed state authorities for the lack of preparation in response to the pandemic. global civil society
Furthermore, these civil society groups are also revisiting state policies toward vulnerable factions e.g. Immigrants, foreign workers, or minorities.
In such conditions, the Singaporean NGOs are putting pressure on the government to also focus on the living conditions of the migrant workers. In South, Africa NGOs are protecting women and children from abusive families or partners. global civil society
NGOs like “Relief International” are helping displaced families and refugees by setting isolation camps and providing medical kits in fragile settings like Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Bangladesh Lastly, these civil groups are also fighting against corruption regarding the allocation of the funds. global civil society
They are making sure that these funds should not be exploited by the government but instead should reach the hands of the deserving ones.
An example can be the “the freedom fund” NGO that is helping labor, victims of abuse, or people suffering from the disease to safe places during the lockdown. They are helping by setting emergency relief funds for exposed communities in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Brazil, and Thailand. global civil society
All these civil society groups which may include NGOs, humanitarian organization, religious organization, development organizations, etc. are trying best in their capacity to fulfill all local or global needs during the pandemic. global civil society
They are promoting all major roles from parliamentary oversight to protecting the spread of information regarding coronavirus to ensure transparency in the fund’s allocation to provide liberty to media and journalists regarding the flow of information of the pandemic to fight against corruption.
This is to promote transparency in the wake of pandemic and mobilize all the resources for the protection of the exploited and vulnerable groups. They are aiming to promote social, economic, and political developments and tackle poverty and inequality in this time of crisis.
They are also protecting the rights of the marginalized groups while also focusing on the protection of the environment and providing other services like health, education, and all other forms of community development.
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Bariha Zaidi is a graduate of international relations from Quaid-e-Azam university. She is eager to pen down and be vocal about social issues which are affecting our surroundings.