All entries for May 2020

May 27, 2020

Global Insights: COVID–19 and the Global South

Covid19 and global south

Authors: Jonathan Crush, Ann Fitz-Gerald, Hallelujah Lulie, Briony Jones, Anja Osei, Shirin Rai, Rachel Robinson

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). Global Insights webinars take place every Thursday at 16:00h (BST). You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panelists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Moderator - BSIA), Briony Jones (PAIS/WICID), Shirin Rai (PAIS/WICID), Jonathan Crush (BSIA), Hallelujah Lulie (ISA), Rachel Robinson (AU), and Anja Osei (KU)

COVID-19 is highlighting existing inequalities, exacerbating differences between the Global North and Global South, and bringing to light the gendered, racialised, and ethicised differences in the way people experience and can respond to crisis. COVID-19 is a health crisis, but it is also a crisis of security, governance, and democracy. The following post summarizes reflections through five questions and five policy recommendations.

In what ways does the pandemic in the Global South differ from that in Europe and North America?

Both scholars and journalists have been quick to highlight the differing experiences between the Global North and the Global South during the pandemic. A more nuanced approach that acknowledges similarities between the Global North and South as well as variations within the Global South itself is necessary. Within the Global South, economic consequences may be more severe, health burdens are greater, infrastructures for regulating populations are weaker, and trust in political institutions is lower, all of which may affect the capacity of governments to deal with the crisis. However, the population in the Global South is younger, less urbanised, has a history of dealing with health emergencies, and has fewer severe infections and fatalities thus far. This may just reflect a time lag and under-reporting in the Global South, but it may also demonstrate forms of resilience and early action which are not present in the Global North. There have been inspiring and effective responses throughout the Global South that disprove many flawed portrayals of the region, including effective food and resource distribution, accurate and consistent global health messaging, and the preservation of human rights in a time of crisis.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic in the North affecting the Global South?

The possibility of declining capital flow for development was a recurring topic throughout the webinar discussion. This decline encompasses remittances, foreign direct investment, and overseas development aid. In 2019, over 250 million migrants collectively remitted over $600 billion to their home countries. Remittances fell by 7% during the 2008 financial crisis, and the World Bank estimates that they have already dropped by 20% during the pandemic. The closure of borders in the Global North has already affected migration and remittance flows. As demand for clothing and other consumer goods declines, factory workers in the Global South have lost jobs without any security or pay. Support for foreign direct investment to Africa has already declined, and argued that the 0.7 Gross Domestic Product development assistance commitment may soon come under pressure as well. Such dramatic decreases in capital flow to the Global South will have a sustained impact on economies there. The US government’s attempts to defund the World Health Organisation exemplifies how governments may use COVID-19 as an excuse to limit funding to multilateral organisations. These tendencies towards isolationism, as well as neo-colonial trends as the Global North serve as concerning signs of what may come.

What is the response to COVID-19 taken by the South and what are we learning from it?

A variety of responses from the Global South have arisen so far, including quick and effective responses which demonstrate strong leadership at a time of crisis. National and local context drives this variation, but histories of responding to health crises and activism around the right to health impact it as well, as we see in Brazil for example. The Africa Centre for Security Studies has pointed to innovative responses such as Presidential Task Forces which mobilise professionals from different disciplines to share best practices like mobile testing. Governments in the South initially responded to the informal sector with tight spatial control, but later reversed this decision realising its vital importance for food security, among other aspects of daily life. In Addis Ababa for example, where around 40% of the economy is informal, the application of lockdown has to be different to contexts that we might see in London or Paris. In the context of the Global South, many populations see the lockdown response as more painful than the pandemic, leading to protest. As governments respond to this opposition, monitoring and observing in future elections will be affected, which may further cement authoritarian tendencies in government and increased dissatisfaction among populations.

Many countries in the global south are pursuing far-reaching democratization agenda. How is/could COVID-19 impact on these agenda?

The Global South is in a liminal moment in which xenophobic and populist politics may intensify, or a more collectivist political approach will triumph where states, civil society organisations, and multilateralism win out. For example, there is evidence in India of civil society organisations providing the much-needed food to the poor during lockdown, however there is also evidence of the pandemic being communalised to target India’s Muslim populations. This moment shows how the state can mobilise crises to shut down democratic critique in the name of urgency. Scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers must remain vigilant in order to guard against these potential threats to democracy, particularly in states where authoritarian tendencies are using such restrictions to quash opposition activism. In Senegal, for example, a recent study found that more than 80% of the population is suffering from the economic conditions due to lockdown, yet more than 80% approve of the government measures and are ready to comply. The pandemic and responses to it have and will continue to exacerbate inequalities surrounding gender and sexual orientation, in particular. For example, access to contraception and abortions is reduced and governments with a pre-exiting anti-LGBTQI stance continue to target sexual and gender minorities, but access to community support services are diminished. We have yet to see if this will also offer a powerful rallying cry for populations to demand more from the state.

How will/has COVID-19 impact(ed) Security Issues in the Global South?

In many places, the pandemic has emboldened state power and created an entry point to consolidate national consensus. The pandemic threatens security surrounding food, justice, equality, and more. In 2019 the FAO estimated that almost 2 billion people globally were either moderately or severely food insecure. Lockdowns have disrupted supply chains, reduced income, and increased food insecurity amongst the most vulnerable as the Hungry Cities Project has identified. The joint food and economic crises are forcing governments in some nations to relax lockdown restrictions before the health pandemic allows. The panel also highlighted the way in which the pandemic is widening the justice gap. In a report in 2019, the Task Force on Justice found that 1.5 billion people globally have a justice problem which they cannot resolve and that 4.5 billion people globally are excluded from the opportunities that the law provides. Current emergency measures may lead to, or indeed themselves be, violations of human rights for the general population and racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. A coordinated response from all justice actors – local, national and international, civil society and private sector – is necessary to independently monitor these measures, create safe zones in violence hotspots, and generate people-centred data on needs.

Key Conclusions: Five pieces of advice for policy-makers

1. Development agencies in the Global North should design aid programming that incorporates social care and social work. Governments in both the Global North and Global South should include increased resources for social care in relevant budgets, and recognise the value of care work being undertaken, as well as the gendered dimensions as women take up the burden of additional care work due to COVID-19.

2. Governments in both the Global North and Global South should invest resources in social infrastructure and build strong social welfare systems, considering policy tools such as universal welfare provision, basic income, wage protections schemes and public childcare provision.

3. Policy makers in governments as well as practitioners in development agencies should take an interdisciplinary approach including, but not limited to, health expertise.

4. Fund independent data collection, including a focus on people-centred data.

5. National governments and multilateral organisations should use this opportunity to create national consensus and dialogue.

Through these five pieces of advice for policymakers, the topic of COVID-19 and the Global South can spur conversation about how we understand the effects of the pandemic, how we construct narratives of the ‘crisis’ of the pandemic, and how we respond as scholars, practitioners and policy makers to ameliorate the impact of the crisis. While leadership, innovation and best practices are visible in the Global South, resource needs and declining development aid are growing. A multilateral response in conjunction with local and national action are of utmost importance to address the complexities and variations in the Global South at this time of crisis.

May 20, 2020

Global Insights – COVID–19: Stress Test for the Global Economy

Global insights covid 19

Authors: Ann Fitz-Gerald, Tewodros Mekonnen, John Ravenhill, Lena Rethel, and Stephen Silvia

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). Global Insights webinars take place every Thursday at 16:00h (BST). You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panelists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Moderator - BSIA), John Ravenhill (University of Waterloo, BSIA), Lena Rethel (PAIS and Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation/Warwick), Tewodros Mekonnen (Institute for Strategic Affairs, Ethiopia), Stephen Silvia (American University).

COVID-19 is a severe economic crisis affecting individuals, households, national economies and global supply chains. There are pressing questions around debt relief, gender justice, and failing international cooperation, and our responses to them will shape our economic futures for years to come. This panel discussion touches upon these issues, and others, in a wide-ranging exchange on the pandemic’s economic effects, responses, and options for policy makers.

1. What was the state of the global economy going into the current crisis?

Summing up the state of the global economy we characterise it as ‘brittle’, referring to recent contractions in international trade, increases in debt of several large economies, and the failure of international cooperation in international affairs. This inauspicious situation can be summed up by the surpassing of the 250 trillion US dollar mark of global debt last year, and does not bode well for the global economy in the ‘post-COVID’ phase. In addition to state debt we have high levels of corporate debt and household debt, leading to variations in individual experiences of the current crisis. This is compounded by the growing reliance on precarious labour which poses significant challenges when thinking through policies to ensure job security. Turning to the Global South specifically, there had been an upward trend in economic growth in Africa since the 2008 financial crisis. These positive trends will be undermined by the current crisis.

2. How is this crisis different from the 1930s or 2008 crises?

What is happening to the global economy now is certainly far worse than the 2008 financial crisis, which was a crisis in financing connected to a home mortgage bubble. The current crisis is much more like the crisis in 1974/5 where there was also an external shock, and we see the severity of the dual demand and supply shocks. We don’t yet know whether constraints on the repayment of loans will lead to economic instability in the future and we may see government bailouts. Even when lockdown is relaxed the likelihood is that spending, tourism and the service sector will be impacted for years to come. 212 million people are employed globally in the hospitality industry for example, which gives some sense of the long-term impacts that we may see. We could see huge unemployment increases as well as significant decreases in economic growth. The fact that lockdown-induced unemployment has caused a falloff in demand, which is in reverse order compared to a typical recession, makes it different to previous crises. It is particularly important to highlight the gendered dimensions of these effects, in terms of who undertakes the insecure labour, and who is undertaking additional care work in response to school and childcare closures.

3. What gaps and weaknesses has the COVID-19 crisis exposed in the national and international economies?

On the international level the main weakness has been the marked lack of cooperation. The one positive course of action has been the G20 agreeing on a moderate package of debt suspension for the poorest countries. Disruptions in imports and exports has constrained foreign exchange and this is hitting countries in the Global South hard, with calls to cancel and not only suspend debt. On an international level we have also seen a disruption of supply chains, and disruptions in the food supply. In addition, many national economies in the Global North have a welfare state connected to work and in the Global South no welfare state at all leaving those in lockdown with limited abilities to generate resources. For domestic economies the record low interest rates in many industrialised economies have robbed central banks of a key instrument to slow recessions, and we already heard warnings about this last year. This leaves only one instrument for national economies, and that is to pump cash into the economies, and there are a lot of pressures on ensuring this happens. In the context of high levels of deficit and debt this will have medium and long-term consequences, and the key question of who will pay for the debt which is accumulating remains unanswered.

4. Will this crisis trigger a transformation?

It is too early to say which transformations will occur as a result of the crisis, particularly as the pandemic is only in the early stages in the Global South. We have started to see some changes around purchasing practices, and we might well see moves towards automation, delivery at a distance, and increasing delinking of work from social benefits. There is some hope of transformations such as a move towards a more caring economy, universal basic income and a focus on the welfare state, but it is too early to predict. Indeed, one shouldn’t forget the aftermath of the financial crisis of the 1920s which saw the rise of fascism and Second World War. Large numbers of unemployment may lead to instability, and we may see increasing protectionism around a focus on national security. We may also see an intensification of regionalisation regarding supply chains and reliance on key goods. The position of China will be relevant for such changes, although the extent to which it is marginalised may be over exaggerated due to lack of agility in moving manufacturing hubs. East Asia is likely to be the region which rebounds most quickly, with less debt than other parts of the word and because of close integration of the economies.

5. What has worked in terms of dealing with the economic effects of this crisis?

The policy response so far has seen some innovative policy making, particularly in comparison to the 2008 financial crisis. Policy makers have, from the beginning, been using more of their tool kit e.g. wage subsidies, mortgage payment holidays, tax cuts, or looking for other types of short and medium term funding and investors. However, a lot of these measures have a short lived grace period and we will see some difficult choices about which companies and sectors will be supported by governments. This is as much a political decision as an economic question, and the ‘winding back’ from such measures is as yet unplanned. Innovations are required around the gendered effects of the crisis, use of technology and automation, social security systems, and access to finance for individuals and households. If we turn to the Global South, and Africa in particular, we see some learning among politicians and policy makers regarding response and early preparations for tailored solutions. Indeed, we have in many ways seen more effective responses to the economic aspects of the crisis than we have to the health aspects of the crisis. What we are lacking is leadership for a coordinated international response and this is concerning.

Key Conclusions: Six pieces of advice for policy-makers

1. Think about how to manage debt relief and introduce new instruments to ensure long-term sustainability of such relief that benefits the poorest.

2. Coordinate procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment on a global level.

3. Address, in a socially just way, the difficulty of implementing social distancing in many parts of the global supply chain.

4. Build welfare states for countries that do not have them.

5. Take steps to address climate change.

6. Focus on international trade and an international agreement winding back tariffs.

May 15, 2020

A Regenerative State or Business as Usual?

women illustration

By Shirin M Rai (WICID) and Jacqui True (GPS, Monash)

A key aspect of social relations that has been brought into sharp relief during the international COVID-19 crisis, is the labour of women in care work – paid and unpaid. Unpaid care work in households has increased during the pandemic shutdown, with home schooling of children, greater care needs of older persons, and overwhelmed health services. Those on the frontlines of the pandemic are women working in the formal care economy: nurses, nurse aides, teachers, child care workers, aged-care workers, and cleaners. Women make up 67% of the global health workforce and over 80% in some regions. Their situation as "essential workers" involves a gender-specific struggle for recognition of the value of paid and unpaid care labour, and for social redistribution of resources to reflect that equality. A key challenge for governments and international organisations is whether and how they will respond to reliance on this labour to develop policies that recognise, support and regenerate care economies?

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, women’s participation in all spheres of life is essential to sustainable development, durable peace and to the realization of human rights. And yet, we seem to be stuck between the competitive individualism of the market and the failure of state socialism and the social democratic welfare state. Women’s labour continues to be overlooked, and unaccounted for, even as the pandemic increases their burdens of social reproduction[1].

Violence against women has risen sharply, and while there has been a celebration of nurses and care workers, there is little evidence that care work is being better paid and supported. To the contrary, more than one in five healthcare workers in the UK are likely to leave their role as a result of COVID-19. Violence and discrimination against healthcare workers has also been cited in many countries from Mexico to Philippines and Australia. Unpaid care economies continue to be relied on to cushion ‘crisis shocks’, without much thinking about whether additional burdens of care can lead to increased levels of human depletion in such situations. This is an important gap to recognise, as well as a significant challenge, because those who are invisible as producers and workers will be invisible in distribution, both in terms of the allocation of resources and the redistributive policies and services needed to address the crisis, by both the state and non-state actors.

The household is a key unit in mobilising material, ideological and human resources in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the one constant: from providing food for families, supplying older people and friends with food and medicines, engaging in paid and unpaid care work including health care and contributing to community services, neighbourhood groups, charities. It is then unsurprising that it is under pressure during this pandemic and its consequent lockdown. Gendered expectations of altruism and self-sacrifice are also prominent in times of crisis. Indeed, pro-natalism in the aftermath of crises – building back better with babies – has been a historical pattern.

Crises are often mobilised by the state to shut down democratic critique in the name of (‘the tyranny of’) urgency. The ICNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focused on emergency laws. For example, there is evidence that the COVID-19 crisis has negatively affected sexual and reproductive rights: Marie Stopes International has predicted that as many as 9.5 million women are at risk of losing access to family planning services as a direct result of the pandemic. In India, to attract investment, many states are giving businesses regulatory holidays, including over layoffs, compensation and decent conditions of work (Sustainable Development Goal 8) including provision of créches and are dismantling further trade union rights of collective bargaining. This needs to be guarded against.

While assumptions are being made about the increasing role of the state in the wake of the crisis, missing from the current discussion of global and economic recovery is the concept of a “regenerative state” that would address gender disparities as it develops policies to recover economies and social life. We would suggest that such an approach is particularly important as we come out of the strict lockdowns in many countries, and as policy options are considered to get the economies going. This is a critical juncture where we could either see an intensification of extremist, xenophobic and populist politics locally and globally or a move towards a more solidaristic, political approach, where states, civil society organisations, and multilateralism win out. We cannot take either as inevitable.

Regeneration is possible in the moment of openness we now encounter as a result of COVID-19’s rupture in business as usual. There is the potential for policy and governance to be re-visioned but this moment of openness will be short-lived and we need to mobilise if we are to see a change in direction in any jurisdiction. We note that such regeneration must include three core elements:

1) rebuilding of social infrastructure – health, education and social care - by recognising the value of the paid and unpaid care economy;

2) a democratic politics of dialogic, deliberative, and participative conversation that attends to issues such as the division of care labour and shadow pandemic of domestic violence and;

3) accountability mechanisms for economic and social rebuilding focused on a bottom-up approach to regeneration with civil society groups, social movement actors, and epistemic communities.

Above all, right now as urgent and new policy responses to COVID-19 are rolling out we need a care audit of every policy and investment to ensure an inclusive and sustainable social and economic recovery and global stability for future generations. The window of opportunity and time to act to build back better is now.

[1] We use this term to include the following: 1) biological reproduction (including reproducing labour) and with it the provision of the sexual, emotional and affective services that are required to maintain family and intimate relationships; (2) unpaid production in the home of both goods and services, incorporating different forms of care, as well as social provisioning and voluntary work directed at meeting needs in and of the community; (3) reproduction of culture and ideology which stabilizes (and sometimes challenges) dominant social relations (Hoskyns and Rai 2007: 300).


The Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development addresses urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level.

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