The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide in early 2020 laid bare the implications of global inequalities on our societies. The scale of the pandemic, the unpreparedness of most countries – including developed countries - to deal with it, and the exorbitant economic costs to contain the virus and flatten the curve, highlight how economic and political policies and decisions taken by leaders will affect the very ability of hundreds thousands of individuals to survive in such unprecedented times. Of course, the implications of inequality on access to healthcare, to safety and protection, to decent jobs, to clean water, to basic services, or to quality education, have all been well-studied and documented over the past decades. However, in extraordinary times such as the current pandemic, these implications expand and become much more visible and acute as the emergency of the moment exposes the inability of most systems around the world to socially, economically, and medically protect the most vulnerable in societies.
While the world is facing this pandemic concurrently, the world system is far from facing it as “one”; and countries around the global are also far from being able to deal with this pandemic “equally”. The unequal development of societies, and the high levels of inequalities amongst and within countries, mean that the pandemic will most harshly hit the most vulnerable communities. These will include the unemployed, the daily-wage workers, women, refugees, people with disabilities, the elderly, people with previous health conditions, people living under occupation, people living in war zones, or people living in countries already witnessing economic collapse or political instability.
Therefore, the catastrophic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide are expected to be even more severe and dangerous in the “Global South” where societies are suffering from higher levels of inequality and instability. In the Arab world, the year 2019 witnessed a return of uprisings in many countries from Sudan and Algeria to Lebanon and Iraq. This new wave of “Arab Uprisings” was clearly focused on demands related to socio-economic inequalities, covering issues such as living costs, fair taxation, corruption, universal health care, free quality education, unemployment benefits, housing, women’s rights, etc. People around the region were protesting the extremely high living costs, the deteriorating living conditions, the rising rates of unemployment and poverty, the inaccessibility to a privatized healthcare system, the continuation of violence against women, the “corruption” of the ruling elites, and the inability of the current states of providing a minimum level of social protection. In brief, the outcry in most streets of the Arab region was against an unequal neoliberal state that has exacerbated inequalities and deepened vulnerabilities.
It is in such a context of social and economic “suffering” that the COVID-19 pandemic reached many Arab countries to lay its weight on the already fragile and collapsing social protection nets. While it is still early to produce a full assessment of the implications of the pandemic on inequalities in the Arab region, there is no doubt that the year 2020 is a clear turning point globally. What does it mean to “press pause” on the economy at a global scale? How will it affect societies and communities differently? How will it affect the Arab region specifically? How can we understand the implications of the pandemic in countries – such as Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon or Algeria – that were experiencing uprisings and revolutions? What about countries – such as Lebanon – that were already going through a financial crisis? What about the millions of refugees living in camps around the Arab region? How does the “lock down” affect daily-wage workers? How does it impact job security, or unemployment in the region that has the highest rate of youth unemployment globally? Moreover, what does the lockdown mean for women and children who suffer from domestic violence? After all, not all “homes” are safe and comfortable. What about people who don’t have homes? Or those who don’t have free access to healthcare, especially in countries where the healthcare sector is highly privatized and where insurance companies have replaced a universal healthcare system? What about those who live under occupation, such as in Palestine? Or those who live under war such as in Syria, Libya or Yemen? Moreover, how does the pandemic affect our educational systems? What does it mean for most Arab countries to suddenly move to online learning? How does this expose, yet again, the structural inequalities in society? How does the response to the pandemic through ‘charity’ and benevolence of rich individuals affect the plight for social justice and social protection in the Arab world? Finally, how does the pandemic affect our understanding of labor (especially ‘essential labor’), production, and consumption in our societies? These are some of the most pressing questions that can be asked today in our effort to better understand and dissect the long-term effects the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the Arab societies.
2. UNESCO Report (2020)
Within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO’s Intergovernmental programme on Management of Social Transformations (MOST) contributes to development, to the eradication of poverty, to inclusive and sustainable responses to environmental change and to the promotion of inclusive, effective and accountable governance, as well as to the achievement of UNESCO’s Global Priorities: Africa and Gender Equality.
MOST supports Member States in improving policymaking processes through a strengthened research-policy interface, which uses knowledge focused on human needs from the social and human sciences to promote a culture of evidence-informed decision-making.
In September, 2018, the regional debate was organized at the launching of the World Social Science Report on “Inequalities” to understand the specific policy and geopolitical contexts in the Arab region and provided policy recommendations to promote inclusiveness in the region in partnership with Arab Forum for Alternatives (AFA) and Social American University of Beirut (AUB).
UNESCO, AFA and AUB’s Department for Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies are joining hands again to produce a regional analysis to understand the social transformations and inequalities in the Arab region in light of Covid 19.
The report in English and Arabic will be published in November 2020 at UNESCO website with a possible co-publication as an academic book.
3. Application Procedure
Interested candidates may wish to send an abstract of 300 words (in English) with a tentative title, research questions, geographical coverage and research methodologies on one of following themes:
The papers (6000 words) will be revised by a discussant and the lead consultant of the project, presented and discussed by other researchers during a webinar in August 2020, the researcher will have a month after the webinar to make all requested and necessary amendments upon comments received.
Please send it together with an updated CV to Ms Carol Donabedian: email@example.com
No later than 30 April 2020.
The Selection committee shall review all the proposals and inform the selected writers no later than 10 May 2020. The selected writers are expected to submit the first draft manuscript (either in English or in Arabic) by 30 July 2020.
For more clarification, please contact Dr. Seiko Sugita, Programme Specialist for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO Beirut : firstname.lastname@example.org
See the link below to know more information.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.