#5 Miniseries: COVID-19 and global dimensions of inequality 

“The world of tomorrow will never be the same as today,” says professor Fadia Kiwan, Director General of the Arab Women Organization, in this interview for the Global Research Programme on Inequality’s (GRIP) miniseries on the current COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the multiple dimensions of inequality.

“The world of tomorrow will never be the same as today,” says professor Fadia Kiwan, Director General of the Arab Women Organization, in this interview for the Global Research Programme on Inequality’s (GRIP) miniseries on the current COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the multiple dimensions of inequality.

Man stands in front of a group of Palestinian workers waiting to sterilize buildings in the Gaza Strip, March 24, 2020.
Palestinian workers waiting to sterilize buildings on the Gaza Strip, March 24, 2020. Photo: Samar Abu Elouf

We are already seeing how the impacts of COVID-19 are unevenly distributed depending on where you live, your job situation, age, class position, gender, ethnicity, the availability of health services, and a range of other factors. In this series we provide short interviews with scholars and relevant organisations that share their insights and views on how the pandemic might exacerbate or alter existing inequalities across six key dimensions: social, economic, cultural, knowledge, environmental and political inequalities.

 

Fadia Kiwan, Director General of the Arab Women Organization. Photo: UNESCO

In this interview, professor Fadia Kiwan explains how COVID-19 could impact on inequalities in the Middle East. Professor Kiwan is currently the Director General of the Arab Women Organization and is a professor of Political Science.

 

 

To which extent could we see health and other inequalities being accentuated within and between countries of the Middle East as a result of the coronavirus outbreak?

 

Today, it is obvious and very sad to observe the increasing gap in health protection within and between countries of the Middle East with the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Initially, countries of the Middle East have unequal health care systems both in terms of infrastructures (hospitals, healthcare centres, equipment, medical staff and healthcare training) and in terms of rights to healthcare and protection. We have very wealthy countries and very poor ones. We have stable countries and countries in war and armed conflicts. It is known that wars dismantle infrastructures of services and at the same time, it increases the needs for care services, particularly for emergency relief services and medical services. On another level, health services are mostly provided in the capitals and big cities, and are fewer and of lower quality in peripherical and rural areas. We are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak because we guess that it is underlining the weakness of the medical care infrastructures and equipment and leads to an implicit selection of people to be prioritized in the emergency health services.

 

Besides, marginalized categories (rural population, displaced ones, disabled people, poor people, and among all these categories, women and girls are the majority), usually suffer from higher rates of chronic diseases because they lack permanent health services and protection. This situation reduces their resistance to the coronavirus.

 

How do the impacts of COVID-19 reveal inequalities related to gender, age, ethnicity and class?

 

Healthcare services are usually provided to people working in the formal economic sector, until their retreat. People who work in the informal sector are not included, neither those who do not work. The elderly are usually deprived of healthcare services. Most women belong to these last categories. With the coronavirus outbreak, those in fragile social categories are more and more threatened: the poor, women and girls at home, the rural population, the elderly, the disabled, housekeepers, domestic workers – most of them coming from Asian and African countries. To these categories, we should also add displaced people because of wars and armed conflicts, irregular migrants and refugees in most countries of the Middle East.

 

Are there experiences from the Middle Eastern context that global stakeholders or researchers concerned with inequalities should be mindful of?

 

The Middle East has been an area that has experienced wars and armed conflicts for a very long time, and we see the fragility of our medical care systems, the weakness of our public services and the deprivation of large numbers of our populations (the displaced, refugees, the rural population, migrants, women, poor and the disabled). We call on international decision makers, the UN and the leaders of the main superpowers to stop the wars in the Middle East. They have to stop selling, providing and circulating arms and munitions to protagonists. They should instead launch tables of dialogue everywhere and elaborate a plan of reconstruction of the Middle East, similar to the Marshall Plan after World War Two. There is no safety without peace, no peace without justice, and no peace and justice unless we leave no one behind.

 

In what ways is the global outbreak of the coronavirus also revealing the underlying political and economic drivers of heightening inequalities within a capitalist system?

 

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has a paradoxical impact. On the one hand, it reveals the common destiny of people across borders, social classes, ethnicity, age and gender facing the same danger. The threat of contamination is a global one, be it for a queen, a prime minister, the delivery man, driver or housekeeper. On the another hand, it reveals inequalities in the treatment of people infected. All services are calculated in money value and provided on a selective basis.

 

This pandemic is a global threat to humanity, across all border lines and categories. No one can protect themselves in an individualistic approach nor on a national basis. It is a must to cooperate on the global level, to coordinate efforts and synchronize measures that should be applied everywhere at the same time and in an authoritative way, as China did earlier to contain the virus in Wuhan. The Secretary General of the UN should take the lead in such an initiative and launch a global summit consultation online, without any calculation of cost and profit, and of national and financial or economic loss or benefit.

 

The threat to our common destiny will probably explode the global liberal capitalist economy and lead to a new political economy. This catastrophe is a meta-experience that will probably reshape thoughts, human relations and international relations as well.

 

The world of tomorrow will never be the same as today.