Role of civil society during the pandemic

Published On: July 16, 2020 12:50 PM NPT By: Pramod Bhattarai

We have to make the role of civil society more relevant. Civil society must act as torchbearers to deal with this global pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm, and has impacted the life of each one of us. These are challenging times, so we need to show inner strength and resilience. We have to be hopeful that our lives will be same again soon. But no one can deny the fact that we have to learn to live with the virus.

Let’s remember how our lives were a few months ago. The pre-coronavirus phase, we used to go to crowded markets and malls, socialize without any risks, shake hands without any fear. Life was easy outdoors. Then came the pandemic. People are in fear, panicking, and are living in a constrained environment.

As the pandemic is not ending anytime soon, there are no other options than to live with the virus. Adopting precautionary measures to be safe from coronavirus is ‘new normal’. We have to adapt ourselves to the changing times.

In this particular dimension of adapting to the changing environment, we will have to make the role of civil society more relevant. Civil society must act as torchbearers for other sectors to deal with this global pandemic.

Civil society organizations are the bridge between the government and the people. Thus they have responsibilities to become a voice for the most vulnerable people and listen to valid concerns of the society. There are many challenges to reach vulnerable people. The first one is to ensure effective screening, testing, and then treat the people, so that the pandemic can be tackled.

The second is to ensure supply of essential commodities which includes food items, medicines and other day to day items to the most vulnerable group of the society that includes daily wage earners, construction workers, among others.

And the third is to ensure safe return of migrant workers, and to take them to their homes.

There is no doubt that various voluntary organizations and individuals have come to the forefront during this time and are taking care of needy people by providing meals, water, sanitary products and others in different parts of the country.

Somehow, civil society has been instrumental in filling the gaps between the government and the people. But they need to do more. They should play a role to educate the mass to generate awareness and disseminate message about the importance of maintaining social distance, maintaining hygiene, the need of washing and sanitizing our hands at regular intervals etc. This is so because the people tend to listen to the civil society members more than others. Moreover, civil society connects directly to the community.

Civil society has to play a role to support economic revival. Due to the continued lockdown, our economy is on a downward spiral and this has hit the most marginalized communities. The government has come up with some relief packages to revive the economy, but that won't be enough. Civil society can help in imparting skills to the workers returning to their villages.

Education sector has also badly suffered. Many of us from towns have been able to learn through virtual means but this is not the case in rural areas. People do not have access to the internet. We have seen a lot of students attend online classes around us but in rural areas the situation is quite different. And a lot of students are at a risk of dropping out of school. There are other risks associated with it. We must do something about it.

The government had been providing mid-day meal in primary schools. The needy students used to get nutritious food from the program. But now, all the educational institutions are closed. Thus these students have been deprived of nutritious food for their overall wellbeing.

Many reports show there has been an alarming increase in cases of depression as people are not allowed to socialize and engage in their regular work like before. And the situation is even more stressful for senior citizens who are staying alone and are not even digital friendly. This could result in suicide. The United Nations has recognized domestic violence as a shadow pandemic alongside Covid-19.  Home is considered to be the safest heaven for any individual. But many people are being abused in their own homes, affecting them psychologically and physically. Civil societies can work for safety and empowerment of women. They can also provide legal support as well as counseling to the victims.

Civil society organizations are fundamental in building a rights-based post-coronavirus world. They are playing a remarkable role during the pandemic by providing necessary guidance on the protection and promotion of human rights; monitoring and tracking compliance, urging governments to fulfill their human rights obligations and providing services. Civic engagement and accountability have moved online. There are many resources that development practitioners can draw upon to mobilize digital participation, and engage civil society as watchdog. Civil societies have opportunities to build new alliances and exploring platforms for digital civic engagement.

The author is associated with Freedom Forum



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