Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has threatened the health of millions of people around the world and it has completely changed the way individuals live their lives. Currently, many countries around the globe are thinking ahead about how life should look post-pandemic.

In this regard, the European Commission is discussing the EU’s social funding programmes to tackle social and employment challenges in the post-crisis era. Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “Making Europe more resilient, sustainable and inclusive in the future means investing in its people now, and, especially, the younger generations. Our priority is to quickly overcome the social and economic shock caused by the coronavirus crisis and to ensure no one is left behind.”

Stakeholders and politicians are eager to reopen businesses and return to workplaces. The public health crisis triggered by COVID-19 and the measures taken by governments to tackle it are not neutral. They affect some more than others, with disproportionately negative effects on certain groups often already in a disadvantaged socioeconomic position and at risk of discrimination. Government measures in response to COVID-19 must protect the rights of all people without discrimination.

In this context, the European Network of Equality Bodies (EQUINET) deems that there is a clear risk of serious economic downturn and social crisis hitting Europe over the coming months and years and that this can increase discrimination and inequalities without strong pro-equality policies and the mobilisation of necessary resources and action at European, international, national and local levels.

To mitigate such developments, EQUINET published the ‘Recommendation for a fair and equal Europe: Rebuilding our Societies after COVID-19’ to be used as a minimum standard based on laws and common European values in the measures to be taken.

Europe must do better than restoring the pre-crisis situation

Europe must do better than restoring the pre-crisis situation. EQUINET recommends that EU and national actions should aim at eliminating systemic problems of inequality and building fair and equal societies grounded on solidarity. This should include promoting equality, including in education, as a shared value and as a key characteristic which underpins the response to the economic and social crisis.

Positive action measures and legislation can also improve the situation and experience of marginalised groups. Hence, EU member states should put in place and finance such measures while strengthening their equality legislation in a way that confirms equality as a central value. Such legislation should demonstrate an ambition to achieve equality in practice. This includes widening the scope of equal treatment legislation to cover discrimination on all grounds and in all fields of life.

Finally, EQUINET recommends that EU member states should strengthen national equality bodies and allow them to fulfil their potential in monitoring and enforcing equality legislation, promoting equality in society and policymaking, and collecting and analysing data and evidence to provide expertise. This should entail widening the mandate of equality bodies to all grounds and fields of discrimination, ensuring their independence, accessibility and a sufficient level of resources.

In Malta, this recommendation has been on the government’s agenda for some time with the aim of transforming the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) into a Human Rights and Equality Commission (HREC). With this transformation, Malta’s legal framework on human rights and equality will be strengthened with the widening of NCPE’s remit and sanctioning powers.

In the meantime, the NCPE has continued working on various initiatives including awareness raising in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and its implications for equality. One of the initiatives is a newsletter giving an overview of the pandemic’s impact in terms of gender, family responsibilities, age, race and ethnic origin, religion and belief as well as sexual orientation and gender identity.

Reference is also made to teleworking; the benefits and challenges of teleworking, the role of equality bodies and the NCPE’s ongoing work. The NCPE is also carrying out research on the distribution of work in households across Malta and Gozo during the pandemic.

As the world begins to consider what it will be like to live life when faced with the coronavirus or the threat of future outbreaks, it is important that the values of equality and non-discrimination continue to be safeguarded.

Renee Laiviera, Commissioner, National Commission for the Promotion of Equality

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