A Truly United Nations: Victory Against the Virus
By: Tasnoba Nusrat
History will forever mark March 11, 2020 as the official day on which the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. With the potential to infect millions, this virus has been ubiquitous in nature -- pervading geographic landscapes, political boundaries, and demographic designations. Even with efforts to “flatten the curve,” government officials, private sector organizations, and private individuals attempt to identify the correct course of action under these unprecedented conditions -- from hand washing to social distancing . As the toll of confirmed cases ticks up, the economy is rattled, social routines are upended, and healthcare systems brace themselves for a seemingly inevitable fate. It begs the burning question: when and how will it eventually end? At this point in time, there is only speculation on how this pandemic will play out, but what can be determined with complete certainty, is that it eventually will. Until that day arrives however, from the individual level to the broadest organization, it is critical for us to unite as a global community in this battle of human versus virus, and prove once again that the resilience and resourcefulness of the human spirit is boundless.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres defines this challenge to be “the true fight of our lives”... “calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” and urging everyone to combine forces to combat the “fury of the virus.” From peace-keeping to knowledge sharing, the United Nations has maintained a focus to support such humanitarian efforts during this time of crisis. Its agencies have mobilized to build a globally united and empowered front in the battle against this virus.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has reported that leaders have engaged in meaningful conversations with the Taliban to promote peace -- setting aside feuds to prioritize the welfare of Afghans, and making more progress in a few days than in the past 20 years.
Collaborating with other humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross, the UN Secretary General has launched a $2B response plan to support member states during this pandemic -- enabling early case detection, increasing access to clean water, developing channels for supplying goods to the developing world.
UN COVID-19 Task Force has recognized the need for infrastructural support across parts of the developing world, and has partnered with the government in Somalia to assist in training healthcare workers and provide tools for hygiene management in response to the pandemic.
While many UN agencies service efforts on-the-ground, WHO has established the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for any private individual or institution to donate. Funds will be directed to assessing the spread of the virus, supporting health care professionals on the front lines, and enabling efforts for treatment/ vaccine development.
From UNICEF to UN Women, United Nations agencies have provided guidance on how to respond to affected groups here.
Over the past few weeks, conditions brought on by COVID-19 have already been met with a range of responses, many of which showcase the best humanity has to offer: acts of love, courage, and profound ingenuity. Moments like this illustrate the extensive capacity of the human heart and mind.
Despite the shortage of personal protective equipment and at the risk of their own lives, doctors and nurses around the world continue to position themselves on the front lines of caring for COVID-19 patients. Rightfully, they have been equated to soldiers from WWII (here).
Under societal suspension, essential workers across America play a pivotal role in ensuring food, medication, transportation, water, safety and other critical resources remain accessible to the public.
From amassing masks and ventilators, to leveraging data points to determine the most effective means of flattening the curve, private sector organizations have formed the COVID-19 Health Care Coalition to develop and deploy resources to mitigate the pandemic’s effects.
Herculean efforts in Wuhan have prompted the development of a new hospital containing 1,000 beds -- built in only six days. At an equally impressive speed, the U.S. Army is able to convert a New York City convention center into one of the largest makeshift hospitals in the country.
Those singing from their balconies in Italy during quarantine remind us of the potent and universal ability for music to connect and move us through unpredictable times.
COVID-19 has brought about a unique set of precarious circumstances for the world, marking the first time our modern, technologized, global society has witnessed such a massive uprooting at scale. It has shaken our economic structures and challenged fundamental pillars on which we have constructed our societal operations. At the time of writing this, we mourn the loss of over 40 thousand around the world, and brace ourselves for what is believed to come over the next few weeks. While we cannot foresee what the future holds, we can rest assured that we have never been as connected as a global community as we are now. From the single individual to the established institution, these times remind us of the common humanity which underpins our existence in this world. Whether it is the nurse that takes on the night shift in the New York City hospital, or the workers teaching local Somalians about the spread of coronavirus, we are all accountable to ending this pandemic. And when we look back at this global phenomena, regardless of when that will be, history will forever mark it as yet another moment in which the strength of the human spirit, overcoming all odds, has come out victorious.
- Centers of Disease and Control and Prevention. “Prevent Getting Sick.” National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease (NCIRD)., March 26, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/index.html
- “COVID-19: UN chief calls for global ceasefire to focus on ‘the true fight of our lives’.” UN News. March 23, 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059972
-“‘Defining moment’ in Afghanistan requires leaders to work together, top UN official tells Security Council.” UN News. March 31, 2020. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060732
-UN Humanitarian. “5 ways humanitarians are responding to COVID-19.” The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). March 27, 2020. https://unocha.exposure.co/5-ways-humanitarians-are-responding-to-covid19
- “UN appeals to all Somalis to ‘come together’ in fight against COVID-19 pandemic.” UN News. March 31, 2020. https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1060722
- United Nations Foundation. COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO. 2020 https://covid19responsefund.org/
- United Nations. “Information on the UN System.” COVID-19 Response. 2020.https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/information-un-system
- The MITRE Corporation. “The Challenge is Complex, but the Goal is Simple: To Save Lives.” COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition. 2020. https://c19hcc.org/
-Wiliams, Sophie. “Coronavirus: How Can China Build a Hospital So Quickly?” BBC News. January 31, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51245156.
- Martinez, Luis. “Army helps make temporary hospital at New York's Javits Center one of the largest in the country.” ABC News. March 27, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/army-helps-make-temporary-hospital-yorks-javits-center/story?id=69845568
School's Back in Session: How to Support Women's Global Access to Education from the Bay
The United Nations Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, issued a statement on August 2019, asserting that “education helps young women and girls become fully engaged citizens...We are counting on young people to disrupt the status quo and to push for transformative policies that shape the future they envision, as young leaders, allies and advocates for gender equality.”
The impact of educating women is wide-reaching, bringing benefits to various aspects of the society in which she lives. World Vision indicated that women tend to invest 90% (as compared to 30-40% of men) of earnings back into the home, elevating the health and education status of their family members. Their research supported that education can promote women’s participation in the workforce -- translating to increased political participation and overall reduction of poverty. However, when it comes to making school attendance more feasible for girls, especially in parts of the world that are still defined to be developing, there are a broader range of tangential barriers to address -- child marriages, deep-seated stereotypes around school attendance, and even menstrual hygiene management -- to name a few.
And while aiding efforts to increase access to education has been a key priority for the UN Girls Education Initiative, the scope of the challenge has been more significant than raising female matriculation rates in primary and secondary education programs. To address the core issues at hand, the status quo certainly has to be disrupted -- and there are several UN initiatives which have aimed to address these challenges from various angles. Below are examples of core programs that you can lend your support:
Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable - This is the theme of the International Day of the Girl, designed to provide safe spaces for girls to make their voices heard and to encourage their participation in the process of making decisions. On their website, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative suggests a few ways in which to get involved, as listed below:
Share stories of girls who are ‘unscripted’ and ‘unstoppable’ in their communities, families or schools. Examples could include girls stopping discrimination and child marriage, girls breaking stereotypes, or girls increasing access to secondary education and skill development.
Interview women aged 35-45 years old who were girls when the Beijing Declaration of Action was adopted in 1995 and ask them what’s changed for them in the past 25 years. What advice would they give to their younger selves or girls today?
Profile people in your organisation – especially those who work in protection or humanitarian issues and ask them to retell a story of ‘the bravest girl they have ever met’. For example, the story of a girl who ran away from an early marriage in order to finish school.
INEE Guidance Note on Gender - In a newly revised format (updated from 2010), this guidebook has been a critical resource to inform educators, policymakers, and civil society leaders of the necessary frameworks to provide education in safe and gender-specific ways to communities experiencing conflict and emergency. Emilie Rees Smith (UNGEI) & Silje Sjøvaag Skeie (Norad) call out the ways that the guide’s practical programming examples ensure girls and boys are able to access education in the context of crises in this article.
UN Women’s Virtual Skills School (VSS)- Taking full advantage of the technological resources available at the tips of our fingers, this program provides online and offline platforms on computers, tablets, and mobile phones for users to access vocational training, general technological skills, and continued academic learning. The vision is to benefit girls, women, and boys to expand their access to potential job opportunities and expand their skill sets to promote a better quality of life. See more info here.
Photo credit: UN Women/ Ryan Brown