Amnesty International’s Annual Report Sheds Light On The Disproportionate Effects Of The COVID-19 Pandemic On Marginalized Groups

On 7 April, Amnesty International released its annual report for 2020/2021 entitled “The State of the World’s Human Rights,” which includes a global as well as a regional analysis of 149 different countries. Key themes covered in the report are health and social protection, which includes the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence and repression of dissent and restrictions of civic space.

In a year where events globally were shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic in its many forms, the report highlights the ways in which marginalized and vulnerable populations often bore the brunt of the pandemic and its negative consequences. Healthcare and essential workers faced the pandemic and the virus at the frontlines, often without adequate support or protection from governments.

Women, who made up 70% of the health and social sectors across the globe in 2020, were also disproportionately affected as part of this group. Increases in gender-based and domestic violence were also reported by organizations worldwide, linked with measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, like lockdowns and curfews. These measures, as well as the shift of education systems to online spaces, further impacted marginalized groups more significantly. For example, workers in the informal economy experienced greater rates of income loss and inadequate access to technology meant that new and existing inequities in education were caused and exacerbated.

Women also took on the majority of new homeschooling and unpaid care duties that were suddenly required in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.  Refugees and migrants, who already faced incredible vulnerability and hardship, were confronted with new and unprecedented challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including movement restrictions that left many stranded and unhygienic conditions in camps and detention centres that put many at much higher risk of disease.

The development and introduction of successful COVID-19 vaccines has brought with it new challenges and highlighted other inadequacies and inequities in our political and global health systems. Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, writes in the Preface of the report, “As I write this, the richest countries have effected a near-monopoly of the world’s supply of vaccines, leaving countries with the fewest resources to face the worst health and human rights outcomes and thus the longest-lasting economic and social disruption.” Although the COVAX initiative has seen some successes in distributing vaccines to low-income countries, the report also highlights how factors including non-participation by countries like the U.S.A and Russia as well as vaccine hoarding by wealthy countries have undermined efforts.

Amidst the widespread negative impacts on human rights over the year, the report outlines some of the successes and steps towards progress that were made. For example, Kuwait, South Korea and Sudan all passed legislation to counter violence against women and girls, and the United Nations Human Rights Council made headway in developing and preserving investigative mechanisms that will help tackle the ongoing human rights crises in countries like Libya, Venezuela and Yemen.

Nevertheless, a great deal of change remains needed. In a statement, Agnès Callamard called on the global community, “We are at a crossroads. We must release the shackles that degrade human dignity. We must reset and reboot to build a world grounded in equality, human rights, and humanity. We must learn from the pandemic, and come together to work boldly and creatively so everyone is on an equal footing.”

You can read the full report on the Amnesty International Website.

Clara Baltay

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