Leading with our values: Protecting our co-workers during COVID-19 must be a priority

Secretary General’s Update 

Dear CIVICUS members and allies,

The past few weeks have been unlike anything we have known or could have imagined. Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has not just changed our daily routines, it has altered entire systems of living and working that we had assumed were indispensable to modern society. And yet, while we strive to come to terms with disruption in practically every aspect of our lives, it is the strength of our values that enables us to act from a place of inspiration, solidarity and shared responsibility despite the overwhelming proportions of this crisis. 

As many influencers have rightly pointed out, the pandemic requires paradigm-changing interventions that not just shift, but transform how the world is organised. Failures in governance and accountability are all too evident as countries organise their responses to the pandemic, and civil society must play a critical role in calling out inconsistencies on one hand, and forging efforts to put human rights and environmental concerns at the heart of interventions on the other.

And yet as we strive to frame the big-ticket changes that the world so urgently needs, there is another immediate action closer to home that we alone can shoulder. A responsibility to protect those who front the battles that we are fighting to achieve a better world. As we know from limited studies on employment within civil society, women comprise nearly 70 per cent of the workforce in our sector and are heavily under-represented in its leadership. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this means that as organisations struggle to stay afloat in a context of limited and shrinking resources, women will be the first to lose their livelihoods, while having a painfully small say in the decisions that their organisations will make in order to tide this crisis.

SGU 0804The ‘COVID-19 Social Security Protocol for Civil Society’ is first and foremost a call for us to recognise that the people we work with and alongside need to be assured of our support for their well-being if we are to remain resilient and relevant in the context of a dire and desperately uncertain future. Without the solid foundations of trust and authenticity, our organisations are not equipped to withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in the coming months. 

This week, we invite you to join a growing group of civil society leaders who have committed to deliberate and adopt context-specific and time-bound actions to protect co-workers from adverse health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To begin with, 67 organisations – representing a remarkable and diverse range of local and global agencies – have agreed that it is important to deliberate the operational challenges that we face in this period and provide clarity on the institutional measures and strategies being put in place. As you will see from this list of signatories, the majority are not large, resource-rich organisations. On the contrary, close to two-thirds of the endorsements received so far are from local organisations of the global south, who have little or limited resources and capacities to tide over the impending crisis.

The COVID-19 Social Security Protocol must therefore be a catalyst for the urgent project that we need to put in place to expose the inherent weaknesses of the funding and operating models that we currently rely on. It must be followed by the painstaking reforms we need to ensure real resilience and sustainability for the sector. The Protocol provides the brief but important breathing space that we need within and across our organisations to reflect on and address these more difficult but important challenges – and we must each bring our strength and courage to this journey.

In Solidarity,
Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS
@lysajohn