Photo: Onset of COVID-19 pandemic boosts support for international cooperation Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th session of the General Assembly, closes the annual General Debate on 30 September 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak - Photo: 2020

Redefining Cooperation, Development and Prosperity

Reflections on the International Day of Multilateralism

Viewpoint by Dumiso Gatsha

The writer is a human rights defender, feminist and part-time PhD (Law) candidate.

GABARONE, Botswana (IDN) – 75 years of cooperation, mutual engagement and improving lives. Heralding the decade of action, 2020 has brought many challenges and opportunities for relooking how the systems we live in can be improved for the better. April 24 marks a day for us to deeply reflect, within our homes or essential service work; on what truly matters in humanity.

The unprecedented rise of opponents of democracy, human rights, inclusive development and cooperation should not be taken lightly. Many grassroots, workers and feminist movements can attest to that. LGBTIQ+, indigenous and many other movements have always faced significant challenges to their existence.

From erasure, criminalization, relocation, extraction, under-employment, arbitrary arrests to discrimination; many communities have been left behind.

COVID-19 has not just affected freedoms of movement or economic participation, but also civic space. Beyond scientific, food security and legal responses to the crisis, gaps remain in safeguarding dignity for communities often excluded or left behind in decision making.

Community led organisations have played significant roles in filling the gaps created by criminalization, ableist infrastructure or harmful norms. The lockdowns and states of emergency have heightened inequalities in precautions.
Credit: United Nations

Where enforcement of precautions to curb the virus often means, the most poor bear the brunt of violence: whether in their own homes, at travel permit checkpoints or in informal settlements. Those who have already been isolated as a result of skin colour or gender diversity are left without the critical underfunded support provided by community led civil society.

Whether unregistered, organized as a cooperative or peer support group; the dignities movements provided for can only be moved to virtual engagement. This brings its own challenges. Particularly in developing countries where digital infrastructure, cost for access, online security and bandwidth are all significant challenges to organizing.

In an era where there are already too many webinars, online calls, social media platforms to log into; similarly heightening the risks of cyber bullying, misinformation, state surveillance and restricting expression. One might think that there are too many problems and injustices to address. I have not even mentioned the environment.

We live in a big world where too few own the majority of resources and continue to benefit from supremacy. Where colonialist laws, tax practices and service delivery infrastructure still remain in some countries.

From systemic to small moments when left alone to your thoughts. The current crisis has taught us that no one is safe and that you can be a carrier of the virus regardless of how you look, sound, eat, learn or love.

It has taught me to rethink, how if violence, inequality and discrimination were a virus – all of us would be more conscious of the role we play, directly or indirectly. That the symptoms of systemic oppression, elitism and supremacy are not easily visible and cannot be masked by education, volunteering over summer or working in development.

There is yet to be a cure for institutional racism, gender-based violence and hate speech. Many of us work to better understand (diagnose), seek legal recourse (lockdowns) or heal (respond); but it does not mean harm is avoided (pain/death).

The many nuances and layers of these complex challenges requires us to take advantage of learning curves. That barriers of language, accessibility and demarcating causes will continue to bring shortcomings. And where intersectionality and multidisciplinary thinking can make a difference.

Even more importantly, bringing in lived experience as the expertise in the room. Securing buy in, community asset-based solutions will safeguard all of us from making the same mistakes again. It will acknowledge the outliers averaged out by statistics and strengthen autonomy in the spirit of ubuntu.

These many problems and injustices might seem like they only impact those who are othered – but this crisis has taught us that they are all our responsibility. Collective action, dialogue and meaningful engagement that is representative of our communities, colleagues, friends and families is central to any solution aimed at improving the world.

The kind of multilateralism that would allow a farm labourer exercising autonomy, voting freely and providing expertise to a position paper – as a new normal. That a technical vocational training background can be valued the same as a soldier in essential service provision – for a new normal. That young people can be employed to eliminate bureaucracy and stimulate alternative development programming – for a new normal.

A new normal that truly heals communities from intergenerational legacies of harm, exclusion and extraction. By including them, acknowledging them and removing barriers for them to participate and thrive.

As reflections on our injustices and often invisible resilience herald a renewed way of working and engaging different stakeholders. Whether at country, regional or global levels; history has taught us the power of humanity in caring for each other and building a better world. My only request is that this time, we not wait for when we can convene again or for 2030.

That we can accelerate, eliminate barriers and stimulate different thinking in our areas of influence and engagement. That those around you in your work to improve this world; not just resemble those in your alumni, homes, giving circles or spiritual refuge. That we include, reach out and redefine what cooperation, development and prosperity is for all of us living in this beautiful world. [IDN-InDepthNews – April 21, 2020]

Photo: Onset of COVID-19 pandemic boosts support for international cooperation Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th session of the General Assembly, closes the annual General Debate on 30 September 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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