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Citizen action on Covid-19: Standing together in the face of the global pandemic

Published 24 April 2020 in News

In the face of an emerging global economic, social and health crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, over 30 national and international organizations engaged in the fight against poverty and inequalities, the promotion of gender equality and human rights, and the fight against climate change are making and appeal for citizen and political mobilization.

This statement, co-signed by Focus 2030, Global Citizen, Oxfam, Women Deliver, Global Call to Action Against Poverty, calls for action and increased vigilance: the resolution of this health crisis should not be done at the expense of gender equality, the respect of public freedoms, or climate and environmental justice.

Our organizations are calling on the United Nations, policy-makers and funding agencies to implement 12 measures to mitigate the social, economic, and environmental consequences of the pandemic.



Citizen action on Covid-19: Standing together in the face of the global pandemic


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Citizen action on Covid-19: Standing together in the face of the global pandemic

Joint Civil Society Statement

April 15, 2020


The world faces an unprecedented moment of crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing humanity’s resilience to the limit and has vast impacts on the wider social, economic and environmental fabric of our world.

The pandemic especially affects older people, people with disabilities, and those with underlying health conditions, and highlights the importance of a whole-of-society approach to deliver well-resourced health systems that respond to all ages. This is an urgent healthcare emergency that shines a glaring light on the underlying fragility and inequalities of our societies and the critical need for stronger health systems, universal provision of the right to health and social protection for all, as well as long-term sustainable development, as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are resolved that civil society organisations and volunteers have a critical role to play in supporting community action and ensuring that those who are most often marginalised are not left behind through this challenging time. Already huge numbers of volunteers are stepping up in many parts of the world to ensure vital food, medical supplies and basic provisions can reach those who are affected.

We will identify community responses in various countries and share the stories of those community champions who are at the frontline of this emergency response for cross learning and inspiration but we expect world leaders to ensure the following key measures are addressed to build a fairer future:

Inequalities

The global response to the pandemic must leave no one behind. We call on the UN and G20 governments to lead a multilateral process to ensure sufficient funds are available through the WHO and national governments to ensure provision of free universal healthcare, social care and support to those who are directly affected in all parts of the world. This must be done equally regardless of individuals’ legal status, age, gender, disability or identity, without fear of deportation or detention, criminalisation, exploitation or abuse and the process must be transparent, inclusive, equitable and accountable.

We call for immediate debt cancellation, financial burden relief mechanisms and large scale aid investments to fund ongoing universal public health and social care service delivery everywhere across the globe to ensure that healthcare is universal and free for all. We call for daring financial policies, including central banks to provide resources and liquidity to governments in a coordinated way, to finance their efforts to respond to the crisis in its economic and social dimension.

We also call on the UN and governments to urgently identify measures to support those in a fragile economic position by establishing a global recovery fund and delivering full implementation of universal social protection benefits and safety nets in all countries, including establishing and supporting social protection floors.

Civic rights

We are concerned that emergency powers are being used indiscriminately to restrict people’s fundamental freedoms, reduce the opportunity for public dialogue and lifting the duty of care for citizens who are vulnerable due to age and disability from health and social care providers. Some governments are deliberately targeting whistleblowers and those who actively share information on inadequacies in the response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus or other human rights defenders. Use of enhanced surveillance powers to restrict civic freedoms is a key challenge that needs to be addressed.

Everyone has the right to health and to be free from discrimination across their life course. In times of crisis, difficult choices may have to be made about who receives medical treatment. We remind governments that decisions on which treatment people get should be based on medical needs, scientific evidence and ethical principles, such as fairness and proportionality.

We remind all governments that any restrictions to movement and assembly should be in accordance with human rights commitments and international standards. Measures should be temporary, subject to review, necessary and proportionate to the evaluated risk, and targeted to ensure public safety while balancing fundamental freedoms. We further support the UN call for a global cease-fire during the pandemic; call on governments to ease the sanctions for humanitarian assistance for vulnerable people in countries under sanction; and redirect military spending to social protection.

We also call on the UN to safeguard the freedom of expression of those who seek to highlight the specific challenges faced by people of any background suffering from Covid-19.

Women’s Rights and Gender justice

Women play an outsized role in the COVID-19 response. They constitute 70% of the world’s health care workforce and recognising that they are workers who are on the frontlines of responding to this health emergency, they must be adequately, appropriately and properly protected and supported to cope with the multiple impacts. We therefore call on all governments to make sure health and social care workers are properly trained, equipped, offered safe and decent working conditions; and properly resourced, including by closing the 28% gender pay gap in the health sector by instituting immediate equal pay for equal work.

Governments must also recognize and address how traditional gender roles affect how people of all genders and ages experience the Covid-19 crisis, reiterating that as in past epidemics, women’s traditional role as caregivers for sick family members is putting more women and girls at greater risk of infection.

Past health emergencies have caused a disruption in routine health services such as access to sexual and reproductive health products and services, access to vaccines programmes, and the provision of quality material care—this disruption of services has grave consequences to millions of lives. We call on governments to safeguard the provision of essential health services through strong primary healthcare systems and universal healthcare systems that are inclusive of sexual and reproductive health services.

There are already significant increases in rates of gender based violence (disproportionately affecting women and girls), including domestic violence in lockdowns, street and workplace racial and sexual harassment, negative coping strategies, and state violence, while support is often diverted to emergency response, which puts women’s and children’s lives at risk. We call on governments to urgently increase prioritisation of and funding to prevent and respond to gender based violence (GBV). A twin track approach must be taken of: 1) funding specialist GBV organisations to deliver prevention initiatives, shelters, hotlines, psycho-social and legal support; 2) taking a multi-sectoral approach by integrating ending GBV into the responses to COVID-19.

We recommend that all Covid-19 related funding, including UN COVID Funds, applies a gender lens and includes a gender marker so we can track and monitor the activities and the implications they will have on the advancement of gender equality. We stress that governments must uphold financial and policy commitments to girls’ and women’s health and rights and not let this crisis increase inequalities or reverse hard-won gains in gender equality by applying a gender marker to all funding.

Climate & Environmental justice

Increasing contact between humans and wild animals through habitat loss, climate-change related displacement and shifts in movement of animals and humans; and practices such as wildlife markets and illegal trade encourages the creation and spread of pandemics.

The Covid-19 virus emerged in a situation where nature was under pressure and animals were not treated in a compassionate way. It has been argued that the virus is ‘nature’s wake up call to humanity’. Not only are animals treated in poor conditions but also increased levels of deforestation are putting humanity in ever closer contact with the natural world; and biodiversity is under daily attack. We will work with civil society partners to share approaches that nurture nature and protect biodiversity as part of the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

We call on the UN to urgently review and move towards a ban on the live wild animal trade and we further call on all governments to halt deforestation.

Any economic stimulus must ensure that the economy of the future is sustainable and just, that moves subsidies away from fossil fuel industries and creates millions of sustainable jobs. Governments are introducing major fiscal stimulus and economic rescue packages with some countries already designing Phase 2 of their response. As the UNSG and others are saying, we need to ‘recover better’ at a time when there is a major risk that we go back to business as usual and lock in high carbon emissions and infrastructure. The SDGs provide a roadmap for the future we want to see, and this pandemic has taught us that policy coherence and a focus on the pledge to Leave No One Behind is absolutely critical.

Governments are rightly focused on the immediate emergency but as they plan for future stimulus and rescue packages, they must ensure that they include commitments and measures that will enable every country to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement; that ensure that global greenhouse gas emissions never rebound bu continue to fall year on year hereafter; and put us firmly on the path to net zero, with global heating limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Building back better

We must be ready and committed to build back better, guided by the principles and the commitments in the Sustainable Development Goals of universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and to leave no-one behind. Life course policies based on the international framework of human rights and intergenerational cohesion are needed to deliver income security, the best possible health, decent housing, safety and enjoyment of rights for people of all ages.

We need a major economic stimulus that underpins a new social contract between people, governments and the market, that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable economy that works for all throughout their life course.


In summary, we call for the following 12 points :

The UN to :

  • Connect immediate response and recovery funding directly with local groups which includes a ‘gender marker’ for women, marginalized people, community organisations and social enterprises to ensure we leave no one behind
  • Safeguard freedom of expression and support innovative approaches to digital freedom of assembly to ensure all voices are heard
  • Promote the global ceasefire and support governments to re-direct military spending to social protection
  • Call for a ban on the live wild animal trade and a halt to deforestation


In the short term ‘response’ phase, Member state governments and donor agencies to :

  • Safeguard healthcare workers and social care workers on the frontline by ensuring they have access to safe and decent working conditions and are resourced properly
  • Involve civil society organisations in policy and operational responses to COVID-19
  • Uphold financial and policy commitments to a human rights based approach, in particular the rights of older people, persons with disabilities and women, girls and gender diverse people
  • Implement clear social and environmental conditions on any emergency financial stimulus to companies, such as treating workers fairly and cutting carbon emissions


In the medium term ‘recovery’ phase, Member state governments and donor agencies to :

  • Drive a seismic shift towards universal healthcare, welfare payments and social protection that include essential services such as vaccine programs, sexual and reproductive health products and services for all
  • Cancel national debts to ensure sufficient finance is available to governments to ensure a just recovery
  • Adopt fairer taxation policies on those who hold the most resources in our society, alongside measures to tackle illicit financial flows to pay for these protections
  • Put in place incentives for a feminist, green industrial revolution to enable rapid scaling up of sustainable jobs

Further reading

Covid-19 Citizen Action - Action 4 Sustainable Development